restricted access 4. Fused but Not Healed
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79 4 4 Fused but Not Healed After fearing miscegenation for much of their history , white Mississippi Democrats entered into their own interracial marriage in 1976. The political division between the integrated Loyalists and the virtually all-white Regulars continued to pose a problem for the state party. The Loyalists enjoyed national party recognition but very limited state power, with the reverse for the Regulars. The election of Gov. Cliff Finch in 1975 led to a union of the factions. Finch’s base among rural whites and African Americans and his open endorsement by black leaders such as Charles Evers and Aaron Henry helped create the first significant biracial political coalition in the state since Reconstruction . The continued fighting between white and black Democrats in the newly unified party demonstrated the uneasiness of fusion even as the Democrats scored some impressive electoral and legislative victories . Before and after the fusion of the Democrats, the Mississippi Republican Party tried to exploit the racial fissures of the vulnerable Democrats by wooing black voters in the 1970s. The GOP reached out to disaffected voters of both races, although they had more success with conservative whites. The rift between the Regular and Loyalist Democrats from the 1968 Democratic convention continued during and after the 1971 statewide elections. Governor William Waller showed his limits as a racial moderate when he rejected an invitation from Aaron Henry to meet and send a united delegation to the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Waller made gestures of reconciliation towards the Loyalists as the convention approached, mostly because he realized that the national party 80 | After Freedom Summer would not seat the Regulars without Loyalist participation. Many white Regulars still opposed a compromise with the Loyalists. Leon Bramlett, the Regulars’ state chairman, echoed the sentiments of many white Democrats when he said he didn’t “think any of those men would be interested in a union with the Loyalist group.” Bramlett spoke about the state party’s executive committee, but many lower-level party officials and delegates had the same views.1 With the impasse unresolved, the two factions met and chose presidential delegates separately for the 1972 convention. The national party ’s credentials committee rejected the Regular delegation because they had ignored party rules for delegate selection. After the 1968 convention , the national Democratic Party had adopted rules for state parties that required “affirmative steps to encourage minority group participation . . . in reasonable relationship to the group’s presence in the population of the state.” State Democratic parties had to choose at least threefourths of the delegation in the congressional districts or at lower levels. figure 6. Charles Evers and Gov. Cliff Finch (center). Finch, a Batesville lawyer, won election in 1975 and negotiated a fusion of the state’s squabbling Loyalist and Regular Democrats into a biracial state party. At first a firm supporter of Finch, Evers broke with him by 1978 and launched an independent bid to succeed longtime U.S. senator James Eastland, an action which underscored the fragility of party fusion. William F. “Bill” Minor Papers, 80–180, Special Collections Department, Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University. Fused but Not Healed | 81 The Regulars did not follow this rule, and the credentials committee said that their appointment of two blacks and two women to their twelveperson delegation did not constitute “reasonable representation” of women and minorities. The Regulars, at Waller’s urging, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to block the Loyalists’ seating, but the Loyalists, who had followed party guidelines, eventually won the seats.2 The Loyalist victory in 1972 further reinforced the 1968 victory of moderates like Aaron Henry over the remnants of the MFDP. The MFDP had two members on the Loyalist delegation, but Fannie Lou Hamer lost a race to fill the post of national committeewoman, which went to Pat Derian, a white associate and future spouse of Hodding Carter III. The moderate Loyalists dominated with Aaron Henry chairing the slate and Charles Evers as national committeeman. Old MFDP members like Hamer expressed disgust with the Loyalists but stayed with them nonetheless. While efforts at black independent politics would continue in Mississippi, the old Freedom Democrats’ decision to stay with the Loyalists showed that most black politicians saw the Democratic Party as the most viable path to power.3 The split between the Loyalists and Regulars continued between the 1972 convention and the 1975 state elections. Waller made a few attempts at interracialism that distinguished him from his predecessors. He appointed the first black...


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Mississippi -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • African American politicians -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
  • Political participation -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mississippi Freedom Project -- Influence.
  • Mississippi -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • Mississippi -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mississippi -- Race relations -- Political aspects -- History -- 20th century.
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