Branch, Burton receive awards

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Greene County’s Rev. Dr. William McKinley Branch, the nation’s first African-American probate judge, has received any number of awards in his lifetime. But Tuesday morning, Branch’s 87th birthday, one present he got was an award like he’d never received before: one named in his own honor.

Branch and Amanda S. Burton, of Union, were the inaugural recipients of the Rev. Dr. William McKinley Branch Award for Humanitarian Service and Excellence. The awards are to be given out annually, with Branch chosen this year as a way to commemorate the award’s inception and honor his contributions to making the Black Belt a better place to live.

“God has worked through him to work for equality,” said Branch’s son William Branch III, one of many family members and friends that were present to pay tribute to Branch and Burton’s many years of service. “He sees everyone as equals. That’s how God sees people, not as people of color, but as people, period…I’m honored to be here, helping to honor my father.”

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The presentation was made in the Greene County courthouse that bears Branch’s name. Several of those in attendance thanked Branch for his willingness to be a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement, agreeing that without Branch’s leadership and selflessness, they would not be where they are today. One of those was Greene County Sheriff Johnny Isaac.

“It’s a great thing we’re here today,” Isaac said. “Judge Branch is an a example a lot of us can follow. Through him, God has been good to a lot of us…Judge Branch has taught us that the first thing we must do is love one another.”

“All of us who got elected,” said former Greene County commissioner Booker Cooks, “got elected because of Judge Branch. The reason I wanted his name on our courthouse is so the children here would see his name, and ask us, ‘Who is he? What did he stand for?’ and we can tell them how great he is.”

Burton, 97 years old last April 28, also received her share of respect and gratitude from those in attendacne. Introducing her and presenting her with her award was her minister, Rev. Mary T. Floyd of Johnson United Methodist Church.

“Mrs. Burton is a lady of God,” Floyd said. “She is interested in the well-being of the family. She teaches children the need of not only knowing how to read, but how to comprehend. We need to teach them their history, to let them know that right here in Green County there are people who stand for something….this is a wonderful thing we’re doing today.”

Branch and Burton both accepted their award with humility and said that they still had more work to do.

“I’m going to keep working and doing the work of Him who sent me, while it is still day,” Branch said.

The awards were given by the PSM Inc. ministries out of Livingston and the Rev. Dr. William McKinley Branch Foundation for Social Justice and Peace.