Black Votes Count

Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965

Frank R. Parker
Foreword by Eddie N. Williams
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Black Votes Count
    Book Description:

    Most Americans see the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as the culmination of the civil rights movement. When the law was enacted, black voter registration in Mississippi soared. Few black candidates won office, however. In this book, Frank Parker describes black Mississippians' battle for meaningful voting rights, bringing the story up to 1986, when Mike Espy was elected as Mississippi's first black member of Congress in this century.To nullify the impact of the black vote, white Mississippi devised a political "massive resistance" strategy, adopting such disenfranchising devices as at-large elections, racial gerrymandering, making elective offices appointive, and revising the qualifications for candidates for public office. As legal challenges to these mechanisms mounted, Mississippi once again became the testing ground for deciding whether the promises of the Fifteenth Amendment would be fulfilled, and Parker describes the court battles that ensued until black voters obtained relief.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0331-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Eddie N. Williams

    Few events in American political life have had as profound or as far-reaching consequences as has passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That law ended a century of denial to blacks of the most basic right of American citizenship—the right to vote. Within a short time of its enactment, blacks in large numbers throughout the South were registering to vote, and voting levels quickly shot up to match and, in some cases, surpass black voting outside the South. Currently, voting levels of black Southerners are less than five percentage points below those of whites; more than half...

  5. Introduction: The Quest for Black Political Equality in Mississippi
    (pp. 1-14)

    Since 1965 America has witnessed a renaissance of black political participation. Nationwide, more than 12 million black Americans are registered to vote. The number of black elected officials has increased about fourteenfold, from about 500 in 1965 to more than 7,200 in 1989.¹ The 24 black members of Congress, more than 400 black state legislators, and more than 300 black mayors—more than at any other time in American history—symbolize this dramatic upsurge in black political participation. This tremendous increase in black political participation has had important implications for national politics and has been an essential element of the...

  6. 1 Mississippi in 1965: The Struggle for the Right to Vote
    (pp. 15-33)

    From the summer of 1962 to the spring of 1963, Leflore County, a predominantly black county in the Mississippi Delta in northwest Mississippi, was the testing ground for democracy for the civil rights movement. The Leflore County voter registration campaign was part of a massive effort of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), the Mississippi civil rights umbrella organization, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Atlanta-based activist civil rights group, in the predominantly black Delta region. As described by Lawrence Guyot, a SNCC worker and later chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party, “Our objectives were very clear....

  7. 2 Mississippi’s Massive Resistance to Black Political Empowerment
    (pp. 34-77)

    As early as 1958 Mississippi’s leading newspaper, the JacksonClarion-Ledger,urged the “custodians of Mississippi’s ‘white supremacy’ machinery” to “take a serious, studied look” at the racial composition of the state’s congressional districts “in view of the NAACP’s vigorous drive for Negro voting rights.” The newspaper’s city editor noted that with a black majority in Congressman Frank Smith’s Third District (“every one of the 11 counties . . . has a negro majority”) and substantial black concentrations in the Fourth District (“seven of the thirteen counties have negro majorities”) “it can be readily seen that the full employment of the...

  8. 3 The Judicial Response to Massive Resistance: Allen v. State Board of Elections
    (pp. 78-101)

    Given the disappointing results of the 1967 elections, it was evident that black leaders and voters in Mississippi would be able to expand their small political gains only if they could eliminate the discriminatory structural barriers imposed by the legislature in 1966. But how could such a reform be accomplished? Obtaining any additional voting rights legislation from Congress so soon after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act seemed an unlikely prospect. Moreover, with their voting power so effectively neutralized, Mississippi blacks were powerless to exert the degree of political pressure on the legislative or executive branches of state government...

  9. 4 The Struggle against Discriminatory Legislative Redistricting
    (pp. 102-129)

    If black voters in Mississippi were to achieve any political progress in post-1965 Mississippi, changing the all-white composition of the state legislature was critical. The state legislature was one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, of all the institutions dedicated to the preservation of white supremacy and racial segregation in Mississippi. It was the state legislature that passed statute after statute to resist school desegregation, thereby delaying the beginning of compliance with theBrowndecision for a decade, longer than any other southern state; that led the effort to crush the civil rights movement in Mississippi by...

  10. 5 The Impact of the Struggle for Black Political Participation on Mississippi Politics
    (pp. 130-166)

    On March 26, 1987, Speaker C. B. “Buddie” Newman of the Mississippi House of Representatives announced that he was stepping down as Speaker, a position he had held since 1976. “I just think it’s best for Mississippi if I get out of the way,” Newman commented.¹

    Newman’s retirement marks the end of an era in Mississippi politics. A sixty-six-year-old Delta planter from rural Issaquena County, the smallest county in the state (population 2,513), and a member of the House since 1952, Newman was one of the most powerful forces, if not the most powerful force, in state government. For more...

  11. 6 The Impact of Mississippi Litigation on National Voting Rights Law
    (pp. 167-197)

    Today the Voting Rights Act is widely viewed as the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted by Congress. This is true not only because it enfranchised millions of black voters throughout the South who previously were denied the right to vote and subsequently was extended to protect non-English-speaking Americans,¹ but also because it has become the chief vehicle for blocking voting-law changes that adversely affect minorities’ voting power and for affirmative lawsuits challenging election systems that dilute minority voting strength.

    Since 1965, under section 5—which requires federal preclearance of all voting-law changes in covered states—the...

  12. 7 Race and Mississippi Politics: Changes and Continuities
    (pp. 198-210)

    Historically, race has been the central theme of Mississippi politics. Writing in 1949, political scientist V. O. Key, Jr., concluded that “the beginning and the end of Mississippi politics is the Negro.”¹ This author has surveyed elements of the racial politics of Mississippi for the past thirty years, beginning with the suppression of the black vote in the early 1960s and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that liberated black citizens from their bondage of disfranchisement. The author has demonstrated that despite the fact that large numbers of black citizens soon became registered to vote they found...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 211-236)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-246)
  15. Index
    (pp. 247-254)