Mississippi, like several states in the deep South, is polarized politically on the basis of race. The majority of whites are Republican, and the overwhelming majority of blacks are Democratic.
The Democratic Party in Mississippi winds up being an integrated group, but it’s hardly a place of racial harmony. Bob Moser, in his book Blue Dixie, explains some of the history behind this:
Beginning in the 1970s, Mississippi Democrats had been split by race into two different parties-a fissure far deeper than in most of the South. For years, there were black and white cochairs statewide, and many counties had exclusively black or white executive committees. The divisions stemmed from the 1960s, when most whites who’d historically dominated the party refused to accept black Democrats into the fold-a refusal symbolized by the standoffs over delegations at the national conventions in ’64 and ’68.
The book goes on to note that over time, black and white Democrats have reconciled and unified throughout the state. But it seems there’s still a ways to go before tensions between the two groups are eliminated.
Case in point: the recent reality show drama of the Mississippi Democratic Party’s Executive Committee. Consider these events:
• In February, the Mississippi Democratic Party’s Executive Committee selected Sam Hall as its new Executive Director. Hall, a political consultant, formerly served the party as a communications director, and was also director of the Mississippi House Democrats’ Political Action Committee. As Executive Director, Hall would oversees the daily operations of the party and its staff at the Jackson, MS headquarters.
The vote for Hall was split along racial lines: whites on the Executive Committee voted for Hall, while the black vote was split between the current interim director Rosalind Rawls and Chris Smith. Both Rawls and Smith are black.
Willie Griffin, a black member of the Executive Committee, was publicly critical of Hall’s selection. Griffin said that Hall has a history of endorsing Republicans, including Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, Congressman Chip Pickering and others. Griffin added:
In the last eight to 10 years, our party has been pushing party loyalty… We don’t need a Republican speaking for us. We have competent people who can run our party.
• On Saturday, March 21, the Mississippi Democratic Party’s Executive Committee held a meeting. Jamie Franks, the Democratic Party Chair, was out of town As such, the vice chair-Barbara Blackmon-conducted the meeting. Note that, Franks is white, Blackmon is white.
At the meeting, Hall was ousted from the Executive Director position by a vote of the Executive Committee – or at least, by the members who were present at the meeting.
• Also at the March 21 meeting, Ike Brown, who is black, is voted onto the Executive Committee. Brown is an extremely controversial figure in Mississippi politics. As noted here:
Brown, the former chair of the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee, was removed from that position by a federal judge as a settlement of a federal voting rights lawsuit. Brown was accused of discriminating against white candidates and disenfranchising voters in Noxubee County with his actions. Noxubee County is majority Black. Brown was not re-elected to the state executive committee last year due to his legal troubles.
In a statement, Brown says that in his “zeal to support the Democratic Party and its candidates, I ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act… I look forward to the opportunity to redeem myself as a member of the committee. My future conduct will reflect that I respect the rights of all voters of every race to participate in the election process.”
The Mississippi Republican Party immediately made political hay out of Brown’s election. Brad White, chairman of the state GOP, said in a news release:
“I think it is outrageous that the leaders of the Mississippi Democratic Party would vote to put Ike Brown, who has been sanctioned by the Department of Justice for violating the voting rights of members of his own party, on their state executive committee which is charged with representing all Mississippi Democrats.”
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