The story of Merceria Ludgood’s impact on her community and her state is that of a journey, in the truest sense of the word.
As an accomplished lawyer and current president of the Mobile County Commission, Ludgood has built a catalog of personal experiences and knowledge which have uniquely prepared her to serve.
A native of Mobile, she embarked on the first leg of her journey to the University of Alabama, from which she earned her undergraduate degree and a Master of Arts.
Ludgood began to cement her career path after moving to Washington, D.C. to attend Antioch School of Law.
Her interest in law was sparked by the things she observed during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
“I understood my status as a Black person in America and the legal battles that were being fought to dismantle segregation,” she remarked. “The people on the front lines of those battles were lawyers. As a fifth-grader I knew no lawyers but there were men and women who looked like me doing that work, and I wanted to be part of it.”
While in the nation’s capital, she worked as a law clerk to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Jurisprudence and Governmental Relations, chaired at the time by Sen. Howell Heflin of Alabama.
With a law degree in hand, and having been exposed to the fundamentals of public service, Ludgood headed back to her hometown to continue her journey.
Ludgood engaged in a law firm practice, and as a sole practitioner, for several years until she was tapped to lead the Legal Services Corporation of Alabama, which provides free civil legal services for income-eligible clients. She oversaw the group’s active practice in 60 Alabama counties.
Four years later, she returned to Washington, D.C. to serve as director of the Office of Program Services in the national office of the Legal Services Corporation.
Those opportunities have had a lasting effect on Ludgood’s viewpoint of the law.
“My legal experience has provided varied vantage points from which to view how our legal system works,” she explained. “Despite protestations to the contrary, justice is not color blind. Sadly, in many settings, race matters. Economic status sometimes affects outcomes, as well. I have worked in settings where the motive was profit and settings where that was not a consideration.”
It also helped create her own awareness of the situations she finds most rewarding.
“I have been most satisfied in a practice where I felt free to do the right thing, where I represented entities and/or individuals whose objective was not winning but making it right,” Ludgood outlined. “Notwithstanding what I have observed, I remain hopeful that the reality of our legal system will some day match its aspirations.”
As it turned out, Ludgood had traveled to Washington, D.C. on a roundtrip ticket, and her next career stop was a full-time position as assistant county attorney then assistant city attorney.
Ludgood was elected to the Mobile County Commission in 2007.
During her time in office, the Mobile area has developed into a model economy for other cities and counties along the Gulf Coast.
“I am particularly proud of our efforts to build regional cooperation in the areas of economic and workforce development,” Ludgood highlighted. “Together with our private sector partners we are making significant investments in our environmental resources and elevating public access to those resources. As our county grows more and more diverse we are building on our cultural assets and using them as a springboard to teach new generations of about Mobile County’s rich history and unique ecosystems.”
There has been no shortage of recognition for Ludgood’s contributions to her state.
She was selected to participate in Leadership Mobile, Leadership Alabama and the prestigious Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship.
Ludgood is a past president of the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama, and as a current member of the executive committee of the National Association of Counties, she represents 12 southern states.
As a member of the Alabama Workforce Development Board, she is part of the Yellowhammer State’s effort to modernize and grow its workforce.
Her Kellogg Fellowship involved traveling to 17 countries on five continents. During those trips, she interviewed women leaders and sharpened her perspective on some of the universal experiences women face.
“I learned that, as a general rule, women want the same things wherever in the world they live,” Ludgood stated. “They want their children to grow up in a safe place with decent housing, clean water, adequate food, access to healthcare and the ability to dream of a better life.”
She continued, “I learned that kindness is also a universal language, and that laughter and compassion transcend cultural and geographic boundaries. If we give ourselves time together we will learn that, in our shared humanity, we are more alike that we are different.”
Given the wide array of experiences she has enjoyed in her community, in her state, across the country and across the world, it is unsurprising that Ludgood has sound advice to share with other women commencing their own journeys – whether in the law or in public service.
“Understand that the law and public service are more than careers, they are lifestyles,” she emphasized. “Neither fit into tidy work timeframes; they bleed into every aspect of your life. It can be managed, just be aware.”
She continued, “Always stay connected to the communities you serve. Circumstances can pull you away, but be intentional about having relationships that keep you grounded in a real work perspective. Make sure you have a diverse network of friends and colleagues, and avoid ‘echo chambers.’ Keep people around you who will lovingly challenge you to be your best, most thoughtful self. Be clear with yourself about what motivates you. At the end of the day, the degree to which you achieve personal congruence will be the ultimate test of how well you lived.”
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Merceria Ludgood a 2021 Woman of Impact.
Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia