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124 6 6 The Class of 1979 and the Second Generation of Black Political Power The use of single-member state legislative districts for the 1979 elections led to the first significant number of black legislators in the twentieth century. The “class of 1979” represented the Democratic Party establishment and formed a caucus of college-educated black men who represented the pinnacle of the new black politics in Mississippi. Black officeholders on the local level joined this second generation of black political power by securing control of county governments and even sheriffs’ offices in some black-majority areas. The growth of black politics contributed directly to white voters’ dissatisfaction with the Democrats and their subsequent attraction to the Republican Party. The racial problems that fusion had not completely solved still erupted into public view, most dramatically in 1980 when William Winter appointed a white Democratic Party chairman. The Republicans themselves continued with their own internal clashes as the conservative and progressive wings of the party feuded over whether the party should try to become truly biracial or instead bring segregationist whites into the fold. With a Republican senator representing Mississippi in Washington, the question that loomed for the 1979 elections was whether the GOP would take the governor’s mansion as well. Gil Carmichael prepared another run for the governor’s office, but he now faced opposition from the ideological wing of his party over his moderate views. Conservatives in the Mississippi GOP had opposed Carmichael in 1975 but kept quiet figure 12. Lt. Gov. William Winter. Like virtually all white Democrats in Mississippi, Winter began as a segregationist politician but shifted his support to fusion as the realities of the Voting Rights Act changed Mississippi politics. The benefits of fusion paid dividends in 1979, when he defeated progressive Republican Gil Carmichael for the governor’s office and then pushed through a major reform of the state’s public education system with the help of the Black Legislative Caucus. Yet his own attempts to keep the top-party leadership white to keep white voters in the party angered many of his black allies. William F. “Bill” Minor Papers, 80–534–1, Special Collections Department, Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University. 126 | After Freedom Summer for the sake of party unity. After Carmichael’s loss to Cliff Finch, all of that changed.1 The conservative and moderate factions in the state party erupted into a nasty public squabble at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City in 1976. Carmichael backed the nomination of Gerald Ford, while Billy Mounger became the state chairman for Ronald Reagan who challenged the incumbent president. Within the Mississippi GOP, the moderates backed Ford while the conservative ideologues supported Reagan. The state delegation was officially uncommitted, but the Ford campaign diverted its resources elsewhere after Reagan’s string of victories in the southern primaries. Yet Harry Dent, the architect of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and now a Ford advisor, saw a chance for Ford to win the state’s winner-take-all primary.2 Clarke Reed had reason to be dissatisfied with Gerald Ford, in particular over civil rights issues. As chairman of the Southern Association of Republican State Chairmen, Reed continued to try to exert influence on Ford, just as he had done with Nixon on school desegregation. However, Ford waffled over extending the Voting Rights Act extension in 1975 to all fifty states, a position Reed supported and was also sponsored by Sen. John Stennis (D-Miss). Ford’s clumsy endorsement of Reed’s position and his subsequent retraction in the wake of liberal Republican concerns angered Reed and led some observers to brand Ford incompetent . Reed in particular had a long history of conflict with J. Stanley Pottinger, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Pottinger , a moderate Republican from the Ripon Society, worked closely with civil rights advocacy groups in Mississippi. He and Reed had feuded as far back as 1970 when Pottinger worked as Director of the Office of Civil Rights in President Nixon’s HEW department.3 Ford backers Carmichael and Doug Shanks, a Jackson city commissioner , were state delegates at the convention, a pairing that one political observer likened to “boarding a couple of vampires at a blood bank.” Dent, who had no respect for the ideological “purist conservatives,” reached out to the pragmatists, including his longtime friend and ally Reed. Carmichael provided intelligence to Dent, giving him information on the delegates so that he could contact and...


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