Hugleys named recipients of 2016 Legacy of Leadership Award
Columbus City Manager Isaiah Hugley and his wife, State Rep. Carolyn Hugley, were honored with the Legacy of Leadership Award on Monday at the 31st Annual Black History Month Observance Breakfast at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
The Black History Committee, headed by U.S. Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., presented several awards at the breakfast where U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, was the keynote speaker.
Organizers played a video documenting the Hugleys’ work in the community, which included tributes from Isaiah Hugley’s mother, Rozell Hugley Wilborn; stepfather, Franklin Wilborn; the couple’s son, Isaiah Hugley Jr., and Isaiah Hugley’s sister, Muscogee School Board Member Pat Hugley Green.
The video documented the couple’s journey from humble beginnings to their current status as prominent leaders in the community. A native of Crawford, Ala., Isaiah Hugley later moved to Columbus and graduated from Spencer High School. Carolyn Hugley grew up in a farming community in Forrest City, Ark. The two met while both working on master’s degrees in public policy and administration at Mississippi State University, and settled in Columbus after completing their studies.
The video emphasized the Hugleys’ political accomplishments, as well as their work with local civic organizations and as members of Franchise Missionary Baptist Church in Phenix City. Isaiah Hugley serves on the church’s Deacon and Trustee Board, according to the video, and Carolyn Hugley serves as chairperson of the Host and the Hostess Committee.
“State Rep. Carolyn Hugley and Columbus City Manager Isaiah Hugley, truly a power couple, and truly powerful contributors to the lives and wellbeing of folks in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley area,” Bishop announced in the video.
Isaiah Hugley thanked his mother, sister, stepfather and other family members for where he is today, and thanked the committee for what he described as the highest honor he and his wife had ever received.
“As I listened, I thought about how I got to, and we got to, where we are, and truly God has been good,” said the city manager, his voice cracking with emotion. “And I would just say to those coming along, you saw where I came from — Crawford, Ala., came through the public housing. And I remember, even my senior year of high school, I was still going to the store with food stamps.
“And to take someone from down a dirt road with no indoor facilities, through all of the public housing and welfare, riding the city bus and then to allow me to be city manager of the city where I grew up poor,” he said, “it’s nothing but God and I thank y’all.”
Hugley thanked former Mayor Bob Poydasheff for giving him the opportunity to serve.
“The first African American city manager, and I remember when the appointment was coming up,” he said. “And quite frankly, I don’t think Columbus was ready for a black city manager, but Bob Poydasheff was ready. And Bob Poydasheff made the brave, courageous move to bring me forward to appoint me to this position. And, you know, I often think about because of that bold, courageous move from Bob Poydasheff, it cost him his second term as mayor.
“Dr. King often said that the measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of conflict and controversy,” he said. “Bob Poydasheff took a stand and because of that Columbus is diverse, it’s a better community, it has great race relations ….”
In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer later in the afternoon, Poydasheff said he was overcome with emotion when Hugley made the comments.
He said he hired Hugley when he was assistant city manager under Carmen Cavezza, who highly recommended him.
“He had all the academic credentials. He was well respected within the city. I liked him. I liked his skills,” he said. “I thought he was the best man for the job, and I didn’t care about race, or religion or anything like that. And I didn’t care that there were people that were against me in that regard, and there were.
“There comes a time in your life always in leadership positions when you have to do the right thing and look at yourself in the mirror because one of these days, the way I feel about it, we’re all going to be facing God … or eventually it’s going to catch up with you.”
When asked what backlash he faced, he said: “Inferentially, there were racist remarks, they were masked. … There were people that were masking maybe their hidden racism. And I just discounted it completely, period.”
Poydasheff said he lost the election for a variety of reasons, including party politics that came into play. But he thinks his decision to hire Hugley also impacted the election.
“I can’t prove it, but I know that I lost a number of the white votes, the Caucasian votes, because I supported Isaiah Hugley,” he said. “As as a matter of fact, there were derisive remarks. You know, he’s a black mayor and things.”
But Poydasheff said he always knew he made the right decision, and described Hugley as a “great city manager, bar none.”
The Black History Breakfast Committee also recognized three other local residents for their contributions to the community. Sandra Ellison, a retired school teacher and longtime volunteer, received the “Unsung Hero” award. The “Emerging Leader” award was presented to Brandon Hicks and Gwenetta Wright, two entrepreneurs and community activists.