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"University of Alabama election sparks racist threats"
March 15, 1999

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama (CNN) -- Fabien Zinga, a black candidate for student government president at the University of Alabama, said he has been the target of threats in advance of this week's election.

It has left some wondering if it is just politics as usual or a revival of the racism that has stained the history of the university. Or perhaps both.

Zinga, a pre-med honors student from the Republic of Congo, said he received a late-night telephone call last week from an anonymous male who used racial slurs while repeatedly cursing and threatening him.

"What I vividly remember," Zinga told CNN, "is when he says 'We are going to hang you from the tree.'"

He later discovered that some of his campaign signs had been defaced with racial and other epithets.

Another candidate for student government president, Chris Strong, has said both he and his campaign manager have also received threatening telephone calls, according to The Crimson White, the school's student newspaper.

There are no suspects in the intimidations. But among some students, including Zinga, suspicion falls on the "Machine," an alleged underground organization said to be run by white fraternities and sororities that have long dominated student government at the University of Alabama.

History of intimidation

Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and one of his predecessors, George Wallace, were both rumored to be backed by the secretive "Machine" when they were student candidates at the university. As governor in the 1960s, Wallace staunchly defended segregation at the school.

Matt Taylor, a candidate for student government president said to have "Machine" endorsement in the upcoming election, disclaims any knowledge of the group and denounced the threats against Zinga.

"It could be anybody," he told CNN. "You're going to hear that the 'Machine' did it, but it could be anyone."

In 1993, Minda Riley, a female candidate for student government president was beaten up. While "Machine" involvement was suspected in the attack, no arrests were made. As a result of the incident, the school administration suspended student government for three years.

But Sybil Todd, the University of Alabama's vice president for student affairs, said that will not happen this time.

"I am not willing to let a small minority disrupt our election process and set our agenda," she told CNN.

Zinga feels the same way. He continues to campaign because, he said, he loves the university, which has 14,000 undergraduate students, about 12 percent of them black. As he sees it, most of the people at the school are not racist.

Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.