On September 13, 1996, Alabama lost one of its finest citizens, Senator Michael Anthony Figures. Upon learning of Michael’s passing thousands of people both black and white began to mourn. Senator Hank Sanders delivered his eulogy.
Senator Figures was born on October 13, 1947, the youngest of three sons of Reverend Coleman Figures and the late Mrs. Augusta Mitchell Figures. Michael graduated from Mobile’s Hillsdale High School in 1965. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969 from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In 1972 Michael received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Michael was one of the first three African-Americans to graduate from that law school.
When Senator Figures returned to his hometown of Mobile, Alabama in 1975, he embarked upon a professional and political career marked by incredible achievements, as he became a law partner with one of the greatest legal minds in the nation, the late Vernon Z. Crawford. Attorney Crawford was considered the Dean of Black Lawyers. Michael had a very successful legal career.
In 1978, Michael defeated a white incumbent to become the first African-American State senator from Mobile County. He held that legislative seat for 18 consecutive years until his passing. Today that seat his held by his widow, Senator Vivian Davis Figures. She is considered by many political insiders to be one of the most powerful African-American women in the nation.
Following Michael’s reelection in 1994, he became the highest ranking state senator when he was elected by Senate colleagues to the position of President Pro Tempore, the third highest ranking constitutional officer of the state. Michael also wrote this same column for this historic newspaper.
My connection to the late Senator is our mutual close life long friend, the widow of the late Attorney Vernon Z. Crawford, Dr. Jean G. Crawford, Chairwoman of the Accounting and Finance Department at Alabama State University. Dr. Crawford was the woman that rocked former Governor Don Siegelman’s cradle. She also changed his diapers when he was an infant. Governor Siegelman and Michael Figures were also very close friends.
A short time before Michael’s untimely passing; Debra and I traveled to Mobile to visit Dr. Crawford. Our visit included a grand tour of her vast real estate holdings. While on our tour just before we visited her island property we stopped by Senator Figure’s new home. It was absolutely gorgeous. Michael gave us a personal tour. He pointed out amusingly where his kids had marked up the hall wall of his new home. Most parents would have been furious, but Michael seemed not to mind. I also took out a subscription to his wife’s newspaper.
Senator Figures was a loving and devoted husband for almost 15 years to one of the most beautiful women in the world, Senator Vivian Davis Figures. He was a devoted father to Jelani, Shomari, Akil and Derrick. He was also a devoted son, brother, friend and leader. If talent and hard work were truly the deliverers of the American dream, he would have been Governor of Alabama.
I attended Michael’s funeral on Tuesday, September 17, 1996. The press reported that you could see the high and mighty sitting next to the low and weak. I sat next to Dr. Joe L. Reed so I know what category I fell into. During his funeral I reflected on how he was so willing to help those in need. He once came to my rescue when I contacted him about a discrimination problem that I had encountered. I still have a copy of the letter that he wrote on my behalf.
It has been almost seven years since the passing of this great man, but his memory lives on in my heart and the hearts of many grateful people in this state. Attorney Faya Rose Toure, formerly Rose Sanders summed up best what this great man meant to his family and friends in a poem that was written by her and printed in Michael’s obituary:
“OUR MICHAEL, OUR RISING STAR, YOUR RISE WAS CEASED TOO SOON. OUR MICHAEL, OUR HOPE FOR A TIME, WHEN THE GLEAM OF BLACK STARS WOULD NOT BE SHADOWED BY STORM CLOUDS OF HATRED AND BIGOTRY. OUR MICHAEL, TALL, DARK AND STRIKING, ELOQUENT, ARTICULATE, INTELLIGENT. ARROGANT—NO, CONFIDENT, CHARISMATIC, STRONG AND PROUD, BENEFACTOR OF OUR JUSTICE, OUR LIBERTY, BUILDER OF NEW SOUTH. OUR MICHAEL, OUR HISTORY MAKER, TO SOME, TROUBLEMAKER, BUT ALWAYS RESPECTED. SOMETIMES FEARED, BUT ALWAYS ADMIRED. YOU ARE EVIDENCE OF OUR GREATNESS THAT CAN BE DENIED BY NO ONE. YOU DREAMED OF BEING GOVENOR. AND YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN, WOULD HAVE BEEN IF TALENT AND HARDWORK WERE TRULY DELIVERERS OF THE AMERICAN DREAM. BUT YOUR GENIUS WAS NOT ENOUGH. MEN ENDOWED WITH FAR LESS SEIZED YOUR DREAM, YET COULD NOT DIM YOUR LIGHT OR CLAIM YOUR STORY. OUR MICHAEL, OUR FRIEND, OUR FATHER, OUR MATE, OUR LEADER. DEATH CANNOT DEFEAT YOUR SPIRIT OR CLAIM YOUR GLORY. YOU ARE OURS, OUR GIFT FROM GOD, OUR MICHAEL.
Greg Griffin is a freelance writer. You can read his previous articles by logging on to www.greggriffin.com