Election night was a historic one for black sheriff candidates in North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Voters made history Tuesday night by electing African-American candidates for sheriff in the state's seven largest counties.

"When I was born, there were no African-American members of the North Carolina state legislature, no African-American sheriff's, certainly no women minority sheriff's, and no black DAs," said the Rev. William Barber, the president emeritus of the North Carolina NAACP.

Voters in Wake, Durham, Cumberland, Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Forsyth, and Guilford all elected African-American sheriff's Tuesday night. In all but Wake and Mecklenburg, it was the first time doing so.

"In order to make change, voting is a key on the local level. And it starts at the sheriff's department and the local races," said Calla Wright, with Justice Served NC.

Wright added that it was necessary to continue to hold elected officials accountable.

"What we have been doing is trying to educate our community about the power of their vote, and making sure they do exercise their rights and their powers," added Diana Powell, also with Justice Served NC.

Barber said advocates will continue to call for citizen review boards and greater transparency, a point supported by Justice Served NC.

"Will they carry the issues that the voters cast on Tuesday, and make sure that they dole out their leadership positions so that folks can trust them for a vote in the next four years," said Marcus Bass with Advance Carolina.

While some races were essentially all but decided in the primaries -- for example, Durham Sheriff-elect Clarence Birkhead faced only write-in votes Tuesday, Wake County Sheriff-elect Gerald Baker had to wait until late in the night to declare victory.

"The point is diversity, the point is equality," Barber said.

There was more history in Pitt County, where voters elected Paula Dance as Sheriff. She's the first black woman statewide to hold that role.
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