Black Belt legislator tapped for Southern Christian Leadership Conference vice presidency

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 11, 2004

REGION – State Sen. Charles Steele Tuesday announced his resignation from the Legislature in order to devote his attentions to his involvement in a civil rights organization.

Steele, in his third term in the senate, was recently elected vice-president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“My responsibility is to this organization, and part of that responsibility is that of raising money,” Steele said from his Tuscaloosa office. “One I can’t be full time in both (senate and SCLC) responsibilities and secondly I didn’t want any questions about ethics surrounding politics and raising funds. It’s an opportunity for my family and myself and it’s an opportunity I see where I can make a significant contribution to my district, nation and the entire world.”

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Steele said the timing of his resignation, official as of Monday Aug. 9 according to the Senate’s web site, was to allow for a special election prior to the start of January’s regular legislative session. District 24 represents much of the Black Belt, including the counties of Choctaw, Greene, Sumter, Tuscaloosa, Hale, Perry, Bibb and Marengo.

By law, Gov. Bob Riley will set a special election to fill the vacated seat. That date has not yet been set according to the governor’s office.

“The governor’s office will be contacting probate judges in the counties in that senatorial district to get their suggestions on dates for a primary and general election,” said Riley spokesman Jeff Emerson.

A date will be set after those inquiries are made, he said.

At 58, Steele is a native of Tuscaloosa and co-owns Van Hoose and Steele Funeral Home. He has been serving as SCLC’s state president.

Steele said he and his wife Cathelean would remain residents of Tuscaloosa.

“The only move I will make from my home in Tuscaloosa is to the cemetery,” he said. “That’s my commitment to Tuscaloosa. I will always be here.”

“I see this as an opportunity for us not only to help my community, but the United States of America and the world,” he said, adding that Alabamians, through his position would gain influence in national and international public policy.

“To have the opportunity to be at this position and be in Alabama and West Alabama – for me to have this awesome responsibility and still be here locally and have input and dialog and with the mindset of people around me I’ve been knowing all my life – with this type of influence people can come to me and I can take it to the world,” he said. “It’s an opportunity and a blessing close to my heart. We will be dealing with public policy of today worldwide and local people will have input into it,” he said.

That level of input wouldn’t change as he shifts from state senator to SCLC fundraiser, and Steele said his senate slate was clear.

“I don’t feel like anything is undone (in the Senate),” he said.

“I’ve done a majority of the things I set out to do and that’s one reason I can leave at this time,” Steele said.

Just two years after his election, Steele points to the first-tier Mercedes-Benz supplier who located in the district as an example of the achievements in the district. Located in Boligee, T&WA now operates 10 plants worldwide, starting from the Boligee operations, he said.

Among a smattering of other accomplishments are movie production, lecture series by M.C. Hammer and Robert Townsend and small business development. Steele said his most major accomplishment was the addition of bingo to Greenetrack in Greene County.

“During my tenure in the Senate, I ate, breathed and lived economic development … and we accomplished a major thing at Greenetrack,” he said.

“We brought in bingo and that’s going to spin off in home ownership, quality jobs and a better educational system in Greene County which is now in the position to be a really great community educational system because of the money they’ve received from bingo – the state will be out of education in Greene County because of (the system) coming out of the red and that’s directly from the bingo,” Steele said.