White primaries

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White primaries were primary elections held in the Southern United States in which only white voters were permitted to participate. Statewide white primaries were established by the state Democratic Party units or by state legislatures in South Carolina (1896), [1] Florida (1902), [2] Mississippi and Alabama (also 1902), Texas (1905), [3] Louisiana [1] and Arkansas (1906), [4] and Georgia (1908). The white primary was one method used by white Democrats to disenfranchise most black and other minority voters. They also passed laws and constitutions with provisions to raise barriers to voter registration, completing disenfranchisement from 1890 to 1908 in all states of the former Confederacy.

A primary election is the process by which voters, either the general public or members of a political party, can indicate their preference for a candidate in an upcoming general election or by-election, thus narrowing the field of candidates.

Southern United States Cultural region of the United States

The southern United States, also known as the American South, Dixie, Dixieland, or simply the South, is a region of the United States of America. It is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the western United States, with the midwestern United States and northeastern United States to its north and the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico to its south.

Democratic Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Democratic Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest active political party.

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The Texas Legislature passed a law in 1923 that allowed political parties to make their own rules for their primaries. The dominant Democratic Party banned black and Mexican-American minorities from participating. The Supreme Court, in 1927, 1932, and 1935, heard three Texas cases related to white primaries. In the 1927 and 1932 cases, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, saying that state laws establishing a white primary violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Later in 1927 Texas changed its law in response, [5] delegating authority to political parties to establish their own rules for primaries. In Grovey v. Townsend (1935), the Supreme Court ruled that this practice was constitutional, as it was administered by the Democratic Party, which was a private, not a state institution.

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. Established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, it has original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. It also has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal court and state court cases that involve a point of federal constitutional or statutory law. The Court has the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution or an executive act for being unlawful. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which grants citizenship to everyone born in the U.S. and subject to its jurisdiction and protects civil and political liberties

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. Arguably one of the most consequential amendments to this day, the amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War. The amendment was bitterly contested, particularly by the states of the defeated Confederacy, which were forced to ratify it in order to regain representation in Congress. The amendment, particularly its first section, is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, forming the basis for landmark decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) regarding racial segregation, Roe v. Wade (1973) regarding abortion, Bush v. Gore (2000) regarding the 2000 presidential election, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) regarding same-sex marriage. The amendment limits the actions of all state and local officials, including those acting on behalf of such an official.

Grovey v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45 (1935), was a United States Supreme Court decision that held a reformulation of Texas' white primaries system to be constitutional. The case was the third in a series of Court decisions known as the "Texas primary cases".

In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled 8–1 against the Texas white primary system in Smith v. Allwright . [6] In that case, the Court ruled that the 1923 Texas state law was unconstitutional, because it allowed the state Democratic Party to racially discriminate. After the case, most Southern states ended their selectively inclusive white primaries. They retained other devices of disenfranchisement, particularly in terms of barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. These generally survived legal challenges as they applied to all potential voters, but in practice they were administered in a discriminatory manner by white officials. Although the proportion of Southern blacks registered to vote steadily increased from less than 3 percent in 1940 to 29 percent in 1960 and over 40 percent in 1964, [7] gains were minimal in Mississippi, Alabama, North Louisiana and southern parts of Georgia before the Voting Rights Act.

Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944), was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court with regard to voting rights and, by extension, racial desegregation. It overturned the Texas state law that authorized the Democratic Party to set its internal rules, including the use of white primaries. The court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state to delegate its authority over elections to the Democratic Party in order to allow discrimination to be practiced. This ruling affected all other states where the party used the white primary rule.

Judicial review in the United States Ability of a court in the US to examine laws to determine if it contradicts current laws

In the United States, judicial review is the ability of a court to examine and decide if a statute, treaty or administrative regulation contradicts or violates the provisions of existing law, a State Constitution, or ultimately the United States Constitution. While the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly define a power of judicial review, the authority for judicial review in the United States has been inferred from the structure, provisions, and history of the Constitution.

Mississippi State of the United States of America

Mississippi is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. Mississippi is the 32nd most extensive and 34th most populous of the 50 United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Alabama to the east, the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana to the south, and Arkansas and Louisiana to the west. The state's western boundary is largely defined by the Mississippi River. Jackson, with a population of approximately 167,000 people, is both the state's capital and largest city.

Establishment and significance of white primaries

Southern Democratic party chapters started to use white primaries in the late 19th century, as part of efforts to suppress black voting and weaken the Republican Party in the South. In an effort to maintain white supremacy, Democratic activists had often used violence and fraud at elections to suppress black voting.

White supremacy or white supremacism is the racist belief that white people are superior to people of other races and therefore should be dominant over them. White supremacy has roots in scientific racism, and it often relies on pseudoscientific arguments. Like most similar movements such as neo-Nazism, white supremacists typically oppose members of other races as well as Jews.

Following the temporary loss of power to the biracial coalition of Populists and Republicans in the 1890s, when Democrats regained control of state legislatures (often on campaigns based on white supremacy), they systematically adopted electoral rules in new constitutions or specific laws to disenfranchise black voters by making voter registration and voting more difficult. A number of devices were used, including poll taxes, residency requirements, record-keeping requirements and literacy tests, all administered by white officials. The Democrats sometimes protected illiterate or poor white voters by such devices as grandfather clauses, which provided exemptions to men who had ancestors who have voted or resided in certain areas as of a date that excluded blacks. Application of these measures was done in such a discriminatory way that not even educated, middle-class blacks managed to stay on the voter rolls.

The Democratic Party achieved a dramatic drop in black voting across the South, with related weakening of the Republican Party in the region. White Democrats were successful in establishing and maintaining a one-party system in most southern states. They thus developed great power in Congress, controlling all seats allocated to their states, establishing seniority, and gaining critical chairmanships of important committees, which extended their power. Black citizens excluded from voting were also shut out of running for local offices, serving on juries, or in other civil offices, and were forced into second-class status.

To strengthen the exclusion of minorities from the political system, Texas, Georgia and some other states established white primaries, a “selectively inclusive” system that permitted only whites to vote in the primaries. By legally considering the general election as the only state-held election, they gave white members of the Democratic Party control of the decision-making process within the party and the state. Because the Democratic Party dominated the political systems of all the Southern states after Reconstruction, its state and local primary elections usually determined which candidate would ultimately win office in the general election.

Texas cases

Beginning in the early 20th century, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed numerous lawsuits in efforts to overturn discriminatory electoral and voter registration practices by Southern states. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also participated in such cases. The ACLU filed suit based on the state's having passed discriminatory legislation in violation of Constitutional amendments. [8]

American Civil Liberties Union Legal advocacy organization

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." Officially nonpartisan, the organization has been supported and criticized by liberal and conservative organizations alike. The ACLU works through litigation and lobbying and it has over 1,200,000 members and an annual budget of over $100 million. Local affiliates of the ACLU are active in almost all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The ACLU provides legal assistance in cases when it considers civil liberties to be at risk. Legal support from the ACLU can take the form of direct legal representation or preparation of amicus curiae briefs expressing legal arguments when another law firm is already providing representation.

In 1923 Texas enacted the Statute of Texas, which provided that “in no event shall a negro be eligible to participate in a Democratic party primary election held in the State of Texas.” The law was challenged by Dr. L. A. Nixon, a black member of the Democratic Party, in Nixon v. Herndon (1927). [9] Nixon was denied a ballot in a Democratic Party primary election in Texas on the basis of the law and sued for damages under federal civil rights laws. The Court found in his favor on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees “equal protection under the law,” while not discussing his Fifteenth Amendment claim to the franchise. [10]

Following the ruling, Texas amended the statute to allow the Democratic Party's state executive committee to set voting qualifications for its primaries. The new law provided that every political party would henceforth “in its own way determine who shall be qualified to vote or otherwise participate in such political party.” Nixon sued again, in Nixon v. Condon (1932). [11] The Supreme Court again found in his favor on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment. [12]

The Democratic Party of Texas state convention then adopted a rule banning black voting in primary elections. This revised scheme was upheld in Grovey v. Townsend (1935), where the Supreme Court held that this basis for a white primary was constitutional, [13] on the grounds that the political party was a private entity. Another challenge to the Texas white primaries was Smith v. Allwright (1944), which overturned Grovey v. Townsend. In that case the Supreme Court ruled that white primaries as established by Texas were unconstitutional. [14]

Though Smith v. Allwright applied directly only to the Texas law, following this ruling, most southern states ended their selectively inclusive white primaries. Activists gained the voter registration of tens of thousands of African Americans after the end of white primaries, but many were still excluded from voting as states used other discriminatory practices, including poll taxes and literacy tests (administered subjectively by white registrars) to keep African Americans from voting.

1964 Democratic National Convention

African Americans continued to work to have their constitutional rights as citizens enforced. During the civil rights era of the 1960s, voter registration drives were held in southern states in efforts to work within the system. In some cases activists were assaulted or murdered, and African Americans made little progress against white determination to exclude most blacks from voting.

The 1964 Democratic National Convention was controversial because of the dispute as to which delegates from Mississippi were entitled to be present and to vote. At the national convention, the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) claimed the seats for delegates for Mississippi, on the grounds that the official Mississippi delegation had been elected in violation of the party's rules, as it excluded blacks from voting. Blacks were still systematically excluded by discriminatory provisions from registering and voting in the primaries, and participating in the precinct and county caucuses and the state convention. Nevertheless, the MFDP delegates had all been elected in strict compliance with party rules.

The party’s liberal leaders supported an even division of the seats between the two delegations. However, President Lyndon B. Johnson was concerned that, while the regular Democrats of Mississippi would probably vote for conservative Republican Barry Goldwater anyway, rejecting them at that time would cost Johnson the South in the presidential election. Eventually, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and black civil rights leaders, including Roy Wilkins and Bayard Rustin, worked out a compromise: two of the 68 MFDP delegates chosen by Johnson would be made at-large delegates and the remainder would be non-voting guests of the convention. The regular Mississippi delegation was required to pledge to support the national party ticket; and the Democratic Party committed to accepting in the future only those delegations chosen by non-discriminatory methods.

Although Joseph Rauh, the MFDP’s lawyer, initially refused this deal, he eventually urged the MFDP to accept it. However, the MFDP delegates refused. They believed that the national party, by accepting the official all-white Mississippi delegation, had validated a process in which blacks had been denied their constitutional right for many decades to vote and participate in the political process. They believed that, because the MFDP had conducted their delegate selection process according to the party's own national rules, they should be seated as the official Mississippi delegation, not just a token two as at-large delegates. Many civil rights activists were deeply offended by the convention’s outcome. As leader (and now Representative) John Lewis said,

Many white delegates from Mississippi and Alabama refused to sign any pledge, and left the convention. [16] In all,

The next year Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, authorizing the federal government to oversee voter registration and other political practices and enforce rights in states with a history of under-representation of minority voters. Work began to register African Americans across the South, and they began to be elected to office again after decades of exclusion. By this time, nearly 6.5 million African Americans had left the South in the Great Migration to escape its oppression and seek work opportunities in the North, Midwest and West, changing the demographics of numerous cities and regions.

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 Walton, Hanes (Jr); Puckett, Sherman and Deskins Donald R. (Jr); The African American Electorate; p. 347 ISBN   0872895084
  2. Farris, Charles D.; ‘The Re-Enfranchisement of Negroes in Florida’; The Journal of Negro History; volume 39, no. 4 (October 1954), pp. 259-283
  3. Perman, Michael; Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908, p. 297 ISBN   0807860255
  4. Gordon, Fon Louise; Caste and Class: The Black Experience in Arkansas, 1880-1920, pp. 51-52 ISBN   0820331309
  5. Nixon v. Condon. Disfranchisement of the Negro in Texas’, The Yale Law Journal, volume 41, No. 8, (June 1932), p. 1212
  6. Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944)
  7. Beyerlein, Kraig and Andrews, Kenneth T.; ‘Black Voting during the Civil Rights Movement: A Micro-Level Analysis’; Social Forces, volume 87, No. 1 (September 2008), pp. 65-93
  8. Texas Politics - Smith v. Allwright (1944) - White Primaries
  9. 273 U.S. 536 (1927)
  10. Karst, Kenneth L. (1986). "Nixon v. Herndon 273 U.S. 536 (1927)". Encyclopedia of the American Constitution.   via  HighBeam Research (subscription required). Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  11. 286 U.S. 73 (1932)
  12. Karst, Kenneth L. (1986). "Nixon v. Condon 286 U.S. 73 (1932)". Encyclopedia of the American Constitution.   via  HighBeam Research (subscription required). Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  13. Grovey v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45 (1935)
  14. Lewis, John (1998). Walking With the Wind. Simon & Schuster.
  15. Unger and Unger, LBJ; a Life (1999) pp. 325-6; Dallek, Flawed Giant: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1960-1973 (1998), p. 164;
  16. Kornacki, Steve (2011-02-03) ‘The “Southern Strategy,” fulfilled’, Salon.com, 3 February 2011

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