By Roger House
In recent years, social policy researchers such as Brookings Institution have chronicled the trend of Black Americans’ migration from declining northern cities to the South. Less understood, however, is the political effect of coordinated movement between the southern states. This year, as voters in Louisiana and Mississippi gear up for elections, it may be appropriate to consider an alternative strategy to the usual cycle of defeat?
The strategy encourages the migration of Blacks in the Delta to the four emerging democracy states of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. It’s because while people may continue to get by as unrepresented subjects in Mississippi and Louisiana, to truly live well requires the ability to have a say in state governance. That ability is out of the question in the Delta.
Blacks seeking to escape the Delta are in a position to accelerate the process of democracy in other southern states. They can leave states with little prospect for representation to where they can tip the scale of justice. Moreover, the activity has the potential to influence the 2024 presidential election.
Critics may ask why bolstering Black voting power in the four states would turn out any better than in the cities, and it is a fair question. Understand that the resources and powers available to a state are vastly expanded in comparison to a city, which can be hindered by anti-city sentiments in the state legislatures and executives.
The Mississippi and Louisiana Black political class are in a position to encourage an outflow of interested people during a regular cycle of community mobilization. It would require the recruitment of professionals, managers, workers with trade skills, remote workers, college students, and pensioned retirees. These are people who tend to vote, have a level of financial means, and skills to help manage the affairs of the state.
Democratic leaders should consider sponsoring the kinds of incentives typically provided by recruitment agencies – including transportation support, linkage with employers, information on affordable housing and cities, and other support.
Blues in the Bayou
Mississippi has been under Republican rule for more than a decade with control of the offices of governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and both chambers of the state legislature. Elections this year will put the ten state executive offices in play. All are in the hands of white Republicans with little to fear – a Black candidate for statewide office has not been elected in over 130 years.
Blacks comprise nearly 40 percent of the 3 million population but are excluded from state power in all substantial ways. It is a consequence of unified white opposition, election shenanigans, and the Supreme Court gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. There was a brief period of political ascendance after the passage of the VRA; that’s when Charles Evers, the brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was elected mayor of Fayette in 1971.
Since then, Black political leaders have searched for ways to overcome entrenched white opposition. They have conducted get-out-the vote drives, run conservative candidates, focused on secondary state offices, joined the Republican Party, and other tactics to appeal to white voters. Little of it has been effective in countering barriers of race, wrote journalist Jimmie Gates in
“Black political influence in Mississippi has slowed despite increase in elected officials.”
Unlike Mississippi, the state of Louisiana gives the illusion of equity with the Mardi Gras festival and conservative Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards. As in Mississippi, Blacks are over 30 percent of a state population of 4.5 million, have a small talent pool of educated leaders, and encounter opposition from a monolithic white culture.
Louisiana has a divided state government with the two-term Gov. Edwards, supported by Black voters. However, the political reality is one of effective Republican rule for over a decade with control of the offices of governor (2008-2015), attorney general, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and both chambers of the state legislature.
This year, all of the major state executive offices are up for grabs as well as secondary offices of treasurer and the commissioner of agriculture and forestry. Like Mississippi, a Black candidate for major statewide office has not been elected in many generations.
Blacks in both states are disproportionately mired in extreme poverty. Perhaps the most glaring symbol of subjugation is the capital city of Jackson going without drinkable water for months on end.
Four democracy states in the Southland
For Black America to establish a degree of sustained statewide influence, it will require a targeted migration to the four democracy states in the south. The most viable states are in the mid-Atlantic region – foremost Maryland and Georgia. They have favorable assets of more than 30 percent Black population, large pools of educated residents, productive state economies, lower rates of poverty, and strong political organizations.
Maryland is the jewel in the crown with an effective political operation in Baltimore and the affluent suburbs. Some people may question if the reliably blue state today is in fact a southern state, despite its Census Bureau designation as such. Indeed, Maryland was a longtime slave state that hesitated to join the rebellion and was allowed to maintain slavery during the war.
Voters made history with the elections of Wes Moore as governor and Antonio Brown as attorney general last year. President Biden took notice with the announcement of the Frederick Douglass Tunnel project, an infrastructure contract to replace the aging Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, the largest rail bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor. It is expected to generate 30,000 jobs over the years, most of which do not require a college degree.
Georgia, of course, shocked the nation in 2020 with a mobilized Black turnout that spearheaded the election of Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the Senate and Joe Biden to the Presidency. Last year, the coalition demonstrated the ability to replicate victory with the re-election of Warnock.
Maryland and Georgia are the bookends for concentrating political power in the two other states – Virginia and North Carolina. There, Blacks comprise over 20 percent of the populations and tend to punch above their political weight. In 1990, Virginia demonstrated the power of a state coalition with the election of Douglas Wilder as America’s first elected Black governor. Since then, the coalition has supported presidents, senators, governors, mayors, state legislators that promote its interests.
In North Carolina, the Black community has expanded its reach beyond the city of Charlotte to forge coalitions with statewide clout. In recent years, it has supported governors, mayors, judges, and state legislators. In 2022, Democrat Cheri Beasley came close to winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.
It’s not to say that everything in these states is hunky-dory; surely, there is work to be done to unravel the legacy of Jim Crow. But they are better options for people interested in helping to establish places to rise for the Black community.
In closing, Black middle class voters in Louisiana and Mississippi need not remain mired in political subjugation. Now is the time to consider strategic relocation to the four democracy states to establish a political and economic powerbase for the future.
Roger House is associate professor of American studies at Emerson College, Boston, and author of “Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy.”
The article is reprinted from The Hill.
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