For 8 years, Robert Clark sat alone as the only Black legislator in Mississippi’s capitol. While other Mississippi lawmakers had at least one desk mate, Clark labored from a small workstation, isolated from his colleagues, and struggling to even be recognized to speak during debate on the House floor.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) removed many of the Jim Crow barriers that prevented Black Mississippians from registering to vote and accessing the polls. As Black voter registration accelerated, there was hope that more Black legislators would be elected in several Mississippi counties with majority Black populations.
When Clark was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1968, he became the first African-American seated in the state’s legislature since the end of reconstruction. However, Clark stood alone in winning a seat in majority Black Holmes County.
Even with this newfound access to the ballot, Mississippi’s legislative apportionment scheme severely limited Black voting strength. In 1967, still in the glow of the VRA, 28% of Mississippi’s registered voters were Black. But not until 1976 would another African-American join Clark at the Capitol. That year, Doug Anderson, Fred Banks, and Horace Buckley were all elected out of Jackson.
A full decade after the VRA, only 4 of the 174 Mississippi legislators were Black. At the time, Mississippi used multiple member districts and gerrymandering to cancel out the strength of Black voters. Unfortunately, the practice of Black vote dilution, is not a thing of the past.
We expect voters to choose their lawmakers. But Mississippi’s racialized voting patterns make it easy for politicians to use the redistricting process to pick and choose their voters.
Today, Mississippi elects more African-American lawmakers to the legislature than any state, with the exception of Georgia. However, that is not the correct measure of Black voting strength in our state.
The Redistricting Report outlines the ways in which legislators have racially and politically gerrymandered Mississippi's legislative districts. We want maps that more accurately represent the voices of all eligible voters and Black voters. Download the complete report below.