Demetrius Newton

Demetrius Caiphus Newton (March 15, 1928 – September 11, 2013) was an American civil rights attorney and politician. He filed lawsuits to end segregation, and represented Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and others in cases related to civil rights. He then served in the Alabama House of Representatives, representing the 53rd district, from 1986 to his death in 2013. He became the first Black speaker pro tempore in the history of the Alabama House, serving in the role from 1998 through 2010.

Demetrius Newton
Member of the Alabama House of Representatives
from the 53rd district
In office
1987 – September 11, 2013
Succeeded byAlann Johnson
Speaker pro tempore of the Alabama House
In office
Succeeded byVictor Gaston
Personal details
Born(1928-03-15)March 15, 1928
Fairfield, Alabama
DiedSeptember 11, 2013(2013-09-11) (aged 85)
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materWilberforce University
Boston University School of Law
Military service
AllegianceUnited States Army
Branch/service325th Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division

Early lifeEdit

Newton was born in Fairfield, Alabama. He graduated from Fairfield Industrial High School. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wilberforce University and his Juris Doctor from the Boston University School of Law in 1952.[1][2] The state of Alabama paid Newton to attend a law school outside of the state, in order to prevent having to desegregate the University of Alabama School of Law or create a law school for Blacks. At Boston University, Newton met Martin Luther King, Jr., who was enrolled as a seminary student at the time.[3]

After he graduated from law school, Newton served in the United States Army's 325th Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division during the Korean War.[4][5]


After his service in the military, Newton moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where he worked as a civil rights attorney.[2][6] He became a member of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights[7] and filed numerous lawsuits that were aimed at defeating segregationist laws. He represented King during the Selma to Montgomery marches. Newton also filed the first lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[3] He also worked on Rosa Parks' defense following her arrest for refusing to move from the "Whites Only" section of a bus.[8]

Newtown ran for Fairfield City Council in 1956.[1] Richard Arrington, Jr., a childhood friend and the mayor of Birmingham, appointed Newton as the city attorney of Birmingham.[9] He represented Blacks who were arrested during the Birmingham riot of 1963. From 1972 to 1978, he served as a judge in Brownville, Alabama.[10] He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1986, and was elected as the speaker pro tempore in 1998, becoming the first Black speaker pro tempore in Alabama's history.[8] He served in the role until 2010, when Republicans became the majority party.[10] While a member of the Alabama House, Newton campaigned for a constitutional convention to replace the Constitution of Alabama, written in 1901, which he contended contains language that disenfranchises Blacks and the poor.[11][12]

Newton died following a long illness on September 11, 2013.[8] After his death, Seth Hammett described Newton as "a gentleman and a scholar", while Robert J. Bentley called Newton a "fine gentleman", saying they "had a strong mutual respect for each other".[2]


  1. ^ a b "Alabama attorney seeks Council post". The Afro American. ANP. April 7, 1956. p. 5. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Rep. Demetrius Newton, first black pro tem in Alabama House, has died (updated) |". September 11, 2013. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Long before his lengthy legislative career Demetrius Newton fought in Alabama courtrooms against segregation |". September 11, 2013. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  4. ^ Roedl, Ken (June 30, 2000). "Colonel receives special tribute". Montgomery Advertiser. p. 2A. Retrieved October 9, 2013. (subscription required)
  5. ^ Beyerle, Dana (July 2, 2000). "Alabama Insight: Proud veteran". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 6D. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  6. ^ Gates, Verna (September 11, 2013). "Alabama lawyer who got Martin Luther King out of jail dies at 85". Reuters. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  7. ^ White, Marjorie Longenecker (1998). A Walk to Freedom: The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, 1956-1964. Birmingham, Alabama: Bimingham Historical Society. ISBN 0-943994-24-1.
  8. ^ a b c "Demetrius Newton, 85, Ala. legislator represented MLK, Rosa Parks - Chicago Sun-Times". Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  9. ^ "Birmingham officials, former colleagues remember Rep. Demetrius Newton as consummate professional, gentleman |". September 11, 2013. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  10. ^ a b "Rep. Demetrius Newton dies; was first black Speaker Pro Tempore of Alabama House | South Union Street". September 11, 2013. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  11. ^ Eagle, Dothan (October 1, 2013). "Newton's death could energize constitutional rewrite advocates". Montgomery Advertiser. Archived from the original on June 10, 2015. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  12. ^ "Newton's death could slow new-constitution efforts |". Retrieved October 9, 2013.

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