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109 5 5 Reapportionment Giving Clark Some Company The elections in 1979 created the first significant core of black political power on the state level since the passage of the Voting Rights Act. While the growth of black politics on the county and municipal levels continued to produce most of the state’s elected black officials, the publicity around the black legislators elected in 1979 overshadowed these gains. Even before the onset of black voting in 1965, the issue of race influenced the reapportionment of the state’s legislative districts, especially after the Supreme Court ruled against malapportionment in the landmark cases of Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims. The fourteenyear legal battle by civil rights activists to elect significant numbers of black legislators centered on issues of racial dilution and gerrymandering , specifically Mississippi’s use of multimember districts to offset centers of black voting strength. Henry Kirksey and the MFDP, joined later by civil rights attorney Frank Parker, brought suits against the state legislature and resisted the efforts by white incumbents to make the black vote as meaningless as possible. The court challenges led to singlemember districts with significant black majorities and the creation of the second generation of elected black officials to replace the old civil rights activist-politicians of the 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed, the legal suits brought by civil rights attorneys marked a return to the legalistic focus of the pre-Brown era, with the decline but not disappearance of mass demonstrations and other organizing in the 1970s. With civil rights laws now on the books, activists turned to the courts to make sure they were enforced. 110 | After Freedom Summer Mississippi’s early history included a fairly regular rate of reapportionment . From its admission as a state in 1817 to the enactment of the Constitution of 1890, the legislature reapportioned itself sixteen times, an average of one reapportionment every 4.5 years. Apportionment did not become a volatile issue until the 1890 constitutional convention. While the Constitution of 1890 is best remembered for the disfranchisement of black voters, the convention debates also featured conflict between the white delegates over apportionment. Predominantly black counties that were dominated by white oligarchies clashed with white-majority counties about representation in the state legislature. Despite their political infighting, both sides agreed on the importance of white supremacy, which the Committee on Elective Franchisement, Apportionment and Elections clearly stated when it said its job was to establish “permanent white intelligent rule” in the state government.1 The Constitution of 1890 empowered but did not require the legislature to reapportion itself every ten years. The lack of compulsory reapportionment meant that the legislature did not correct malapportioned legislative districts during the decades after 1890. The first significant legal challenge to malapportionment was against Mississippi’s congressional, not state, legislative districts. In 1932, a Mississippian named Stewart Broom challenged the unequal distribution of inhabitants in the state’s seven congressional districts. The seventh district, for example, had 414,000 residents to the fourth district’s 184,000. The seventh district’s high population resulted from the legislature folding the eighth district into the seventh district to meet congressional redistricting requirements. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the unequal distribution in October 1932. The suit dealt with congressional districts, but a favorable ruling for Broom could have also opened up challenges to the state reapportionment system.2 The Daily Clarion-Ledger praised the Court’s decision, calling it “a victory for Mississippi and state rights,” and called on white Mississippians to “join hands in the name of a common democracy—a democracy under which white men have lived and labored and voted in the protection of white supremacy for the past 60 years.”3 Malapportionment received further judicial protection in 1946 when the Court ruled against the plaintiffs in Colegrove v. Green, an Illinois case that challenged congressional districts with population imbalances . Colegrove stymied reapportionment suits nationwide for another thirteen years. By the end of the 1950s a new apportionment challenge figure 11. Mississippi State Capitol, Jackson. Continued use of multimember districts and county lines in redistricting kept the Mississippi House of Representatives almost all-white in the 1970s, with only one black representative from 1968 to 1975. Not until the adoption of single-member districts by court order in 1979 did a significant number of black candidates win state House and Senate elections. William F. “Bill” Minor Papers, 80–597a, Special Collections Department, Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University...


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