Black Enfranchisement In Kentucky: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965



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Black Enfranchisement In Kentucky:

The Impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

A Paper to be Presented to the Kentucky Political

Science Association

Danville, Kentucky

March 3, 2000

Gail Guiling

Western Kentucky University

By 1965, the Fifteenth Amendment stood as a grim reminder that constitutional guarantees are not inviolable. Despite the fact that the Amendment, ratified in 1870, specifies that states cannot deny the right to vote to citizens because of their race, many Southern states devised ingenious methods of doing so. By the early twentieth century, state legislators were using literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and white primaries to disfranchise blacks, and many white citizens resorted to raw violence to achieve the same end. Although the 1920 census showed that there were over 5.5 million eligible African-American voters, only 1 million of them lived in states which did not disfranchise them. The remaining 4.5 million were still subject to restrictive suffrage qualifications. Seventy years after ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, approximately 3% of eligible black voters in the South were registered. In 1940, less than a quarter million African Americans voted in the South.1

In the spring of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson stepped into the breach. Prodded by the American public’s outrage over scenes of bloody conflict in Alabama, Johnson submitted a sweeping proposal to Congress. Selma, Alabama, “had more black citizens than white citizens, but 9,700 whites were registered to vote compared to only 325 blacks.” On March 7, 1965, approximately 525 people, mostly African Americans, attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, protesting the death of a young voting rights worker at the hands of a state trooper. In the incident which came to be known as Bloody Sunday, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and local policemen violently attacked the marchers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The New York Times and national television reports carried graphic coverage of the events.2

Although the quest for voting rights had begun to attract nationwide sympathy prior to this incident, prominent civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy believed that “[t]he sight of unarmed and unprotected blacks being beaten and whipped and gassed by riot squads was what it took to pass a comprehensive voting rights act.” On March 15, one week after Bloody Sunday, President Johnson delivered the voting rights proposal to Congress. Johnson stated that, despite constitutional prohibitions and statutory affirmations, “[n]o law that we now have on the books … can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it.” The Voting Rights Act, an enforcement mechanism for the Fifteenth Amendment, was designed to overcome prejudicial state and local barriers. The Act’s provisions outlawed discriminatory “voting qualifications” and established the right of federal examiners to conduct registration activities in the covered jurisdictions. Furthermore, states that were subject to federal oversight under the Act’s guidelines could not alter “any voting qualification, … standard, practice, or procedure” without preclearance by the Justice Department. Under intense pressure from both the President and the public, Congress quickly passed the legislation. On August 6, 1965, President Johnson, in a special ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, signed the Voting Rights Act into law, declaring “Today we strike away the last major shackle of those fierce and ancient bonds.”3

Although the 1965 Act focused on the seven most egregious violators of black suffrage in the Deep South, it had a ripple effect on border states. Kentucky, with a minimal black population and with few civil disruptions in the 1960s, did not come under intense scrutiny by federal officials. Nevertheless, the state responded to the Act’s provisions, lest it be forced to comply on less desirable terms. Louisville, with the state’s largest black population, therefore provides a useful lens to view the impact of the Voting Rights Act on a border state.4

In the wake of the Civil War, Kentucky exhibited evidence of the same racial tensions that existed in the Deep South. Ironically, Kentucky blacks often experienced even less progress than did those in reconstructed states, because Reconstruction mandates did not apply to border states. In response to the Fifteenth Amendment, for example, several Kentucky localities extended the length of time a person must reside in an area before being allowed to vote, and others redistricted as a means of removing blacks from their voting population. Louisville quickly demonstrated its unwillingness to allow electoral participation by African Americans.5

By 1870, Louisville election officials and white residents had begun their efforts to oppress black voters. Democrats, wary that the black vote would end their domination of state offices, used local newspapers favorable to their cause to publish false reports that “blacks … would be required to pay $1.50 before voting.” On August 1, Election Day, groups of whites “roamed the streets … and indiscriminately attacked blacks who were going to the polls.” After the Democrats handily won the election, “Republican officials … concluded that the Democrats won by preventing blacks from voting and by resorting to racial hatred to bring out white voters.”6

In 1891, a new state Constitution instituted a discriminatory electoral practice that further hampered the political efficacy of African Americans. By mandating an at-large election structure for Louisville, Kentucky legislators established an effective vote dilution practice that states in the Deep South would not take advantage of for nearly three-quarters of a century. If blacks managed to overcome obstacles to voting, they would still be prevented from electing a representative of their choice.7

During the last three decades of the nineteenth century, African Americans in Louisville consistently supported the Republican party. By 1895, their party finally achieved a majority on the city council and put a Republican mayor in place. Blacks achieved no political power for themselves, however, even though their unflagging support had helped the Republicans attain this victory. The new mayor, George Todd, informed black constituents that patronage jobs would not be forthcoming because blacks must “stay in their place.” Mayor Todd “relegat[ed] them to janitor work and appoint[ed] only one black to a highly visible, though low-paying, position on the City-County Republican Committee.”8

At the dawn of the twentieth century, both Democrats and Republicans in Louisville used blacks as an election tool while denying them any fruits of their efforts. The few blacks who gained patronage positions were “allies of white politicians” who worked tirelessly to assure the loyalty of black voters to the Republican party. Democrats tried to steer whites away from the Republican party by harping on its black constituency. In a 1901 contest for mayor, the Democratic-oriented Louisville Courier-Journal editorialized that “The Republican party consists mainly of a ring of Federal officeholders … whose main support is a mass of ignorant blacks.”9

Democratic party officials regularly broadcast the count of registered blacks as a means of rallying white support. Blacks also faced charges by Democrats that they had either registered illegally or voted more than once. A Louisville Courier-Journal article in October 1919 described a prosecution by the Democratic party of “four negroes, one an ex-convict, for illegal registration.” According to the arresting officers, “an automobile was loaded up with negroes near a saloon in Ninth ward,” from whence the occupants proceeded to various precincts to commit the alleged illegal registrations. Interestingly, the driver of the car “disappeared.” Articles such as this further stigmatized black voters in the eyes of the public. If the charges were true, such incidents also indicate manipulation of blacks without regard for their interests.10

Vote fraud by whites, meanwhile, was rampant but unpublicized. Michael J. Brennan, a Democratic political boss in Louisville, once informed a “would be candidate … that if he paid two thousand dollars, Brennan would ensure that the city precincts would all vote for him. He paid, and they did.” A white voter from Eastern Kentucky remembered selling his vote for four dollars, but, he said, “I was thoroughly rebuked by my father … for not holding out for the going rate of seven dollars and a half pint of Heaven Hill bourbon.”11

In 1933, political expediency finally led to significant progress in the battle for black representation. Eubank Tucker, a black Republican, ran for the state legislature on the Democratic ticket because the Republicans still refused to back an African-American candidate. The Democrats endorsed this action merely because they “had nothing to lose … since their candidates traditionally fared poorly in the Republican-dominated Fifty-Eighth District.” The white Republican nominee won the election, but the Democrats regained control of the city government based on the support of black voters who had switched parties because of the Tucker contest. In 1935, African-American voters finally got to elect a member of their own race. Having learned from the previous election, Republicans ran Charles Anderson who, “[o]n January 7, 1936, … became the first black legislator in a southern state since Reconstruction.”12

Republican Eugene S. Clayton achieved another first when he became the first black elected as a Louisville alderman in 1945. The failure to attain a seat earlier resulted from the city’s election structure whereby candidates were “elected from the city at large rather than from wards.” Without strong party backing, black candidates could not win under these circumstances. African Americans finally achieved victory in 1945 because “both parties, … fearful that their opponents would move first, … nominated black candidates.”13

Party organizations and electoral structures were not the only hindrances to African- American candidates. The lack of racial cohesiveness also frustrated black office seekers. In 1956, Dr. Louis Kesselman, chairman of the University of Louisville’s Political Science Department at that time, did a study of city voting patterns. He found that there was “no discernible bloc voting by [African Americans] in general elections,” whereas bloc voting by whites “against the [black] candidates” did exist. Dr. Kesselman concluded that the absence of strong bloc voting by blacks often led to the defeat of their candidates.14

By 1960, black political strength in Louisville was still far short of its potential. Of 51,000 eligible black voters, “only 20,714 … were registered at that time.” Since there were approximately 40-50,000 total unregistered voters in Louisville, blacks were obviously the majority of those not registered. Stringent registration requirements often served to hinder black voters, as well as the fact that most registrants had to trek to the main office downtown, since branch offices were open only one day in each of the 12 wards during the registration period.15

Registration statistics reflected the difficulties encountered by African Americans in Louisville. In 1963, only 16.7% of the registered voters were black. By 1964, the African-American percentage of those registered increased minimally to 16.8%, a mere .1% above the 1963 level.16

In November 1965, shortly after passage of the Voting Rights Act, black voters comprised 18.1% of the registered voters in Louisville. In 1966, only 25,295 blacks registered, compared to 116,260 whites. Surprisingly, the black percentage of the total declined to 17.8% the following year. Possibly, the routine purge of 14,950 voters in October 1966 disproportionally affected blacks. Although other factors, such as a simple decrease in black registration, may account for the decline, the data clearly indicate that black registration decreased by 5%, compared to a 4% decrease in white registration. The scarcity of available data precludes a definite conclusion. In 1967, both black and white registration decreased.17

Registration rolls for 1968 were unavailable, but obvious evidence of African-American frustration with the political situation surfaced in late May and early June of that year. Although the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4 of that year undoubtedly contributed to the tension, a specific local incident galvanized black Louisvillians into action. On May 27, approximately 350 people, mostly blacks, gathered for a meeting “which was called to demand the dismissal of Louisville Patrolman Michael Clifford.” The Civil Service Board had ruled that Clifford, a white officer temporarily suspended from duty because of accusations of brutality during an arrest of two blacks earlier that month, should retain his job. Speakers at the gathering stressed the need for blacks to “unite for political and economic power.” By the end of the meeting, the crowd was incensed by false reports that Louisville officials had forcibly prevented Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Black Power movement, from attending the rally. Accumulated anger and frustration boiled over into violence. For the next five days, rioting, burning, looting, and shooting convulsed Louisville. Governor Louie B. Nunn called up almost 2,000 National Guardsmen to help restore order. The rioting in May was not the only evidence of racial unrest in the area during 1968. On August 13, Zion Baptist Church, which had an African-American congregation, was bombed. Three days later, someone bombed a “black community center” in Jefferson County.18

In the aftermath of the riots, comments by prominent blacks revealed one of the primary reasons that black rage erupted so unexpectedly. A representative to the state legislature, Hughes McGill, stated that “For years our leaders have been selected by the white man. Too often they say only what the white man wants them to say.” Others expressed a “general mistrust and apprehension of ‘the white power structure’.”19

For 1969, records show that the black percentage declined to 17.2% of the total and young African Americans still felt stymied by the political system. A student activist in 1969 explained that “it’s really disillusioning to see a system which touts all these liberal ideas of liberty and justice, and no matter what you do within the structure you can’t get anything done.” The student’s frustration was legitimate since an examination of the evidence reveals that African Americans in Kentucky made less progress than their counterparts in the former Confederacy. In 1969, only twenty blacks served in elective positions in Kentucky. Three of them were state legislators from Louisville. Ultimately, the clearest evidence that the Voting Rights Act affected African-American electoral participation in Louisville is that black registration showed its only increase of the decade within three months of the Act’s passage, although white registration steadily decreased during the 1960s.20

Blacks made small inroads in Kentucky politics during the next decade. By 1970, African Americans had gained an additional 21 positions statewide. Since they comprised approximately 7% of the state’s total population, they “were still under-represented” because they “held less than .7%” of total elective positions.21

In 1972 African Americans increased their number of elective positions to 54 statewide, but when one considers that there were nearly 6,000 positions available, the level of inequality is alarming. The majority of the officeholders still either came from Louisville or Jefferson County or served in that area. There were a few notable developments. In 1972, Charles H. Anderson became the first black magistrate in Jefferson County, defeating a white candidate in the process. The same year, Neville M. Tucker won a city-wide election against white candidates to become Police Court Judge. The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights nevertheless pointed out some discouraging statistics. According to their 1972 report, Kentucky’s “rate of increase in the total number of black elected officials was only half the national rate of increase during each of the past two years.” Eight states in the South outranked Kentucky in the number of African Americans holding elected offices, although these statistics do not take population differences into account. Notably, six of the eight were states subject to the sanctions of the Voting Rights Act.22

Another sign of the Act’s impact on Kentucky, however, appeared in a 1972 Louisville Courier-Journal article that reported a state Court of Appeals ruling on a new voter registration procedure. Louisville’s Board of Registration had opposed a new state law that entitled eligible voters to register via mail, rather than restricting them to in-person registration at the county office. The Court of Appeals upheld the new law, noting that legislators were “concerned with accomplishing some liberalization for the 1972 presidential election to comply with the Voting Rights Act.”23

In 1972, Governor Wendell H. Ford also called the Kentucky General Assembly into special session to revise Kentucky’s election laws. The session was necessitated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dunn v. Blumstein, which “struck down the one-year residency requirement as a prerequisite for registration to vote.” As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandate, Kentucky significantly eased its registration requirements. Altered registration procedures undoubtedly removed some obstacles to black participation, but Louisville continued to show signs of racial problems. During 1974, the city’s Human Relations Commission “received 414 complaints” of civil rights violations in the areas of housing, employment, public accommodations, and police behavior. Tensions further increased in 1975 when court-ordered busing revealed the extent of Louisville’s racial divisions. In September of that year, “[s]chool buses were damaged, stores looted, … property destroyed, [and] fifty injuries” occurred in riots instigated by whites. In a 1976 survey conducted by the University of Louisville’s Urban Studies Center, city residents identified “race relations” and “equal opportunity” as 13th out of 36 important issues. The survey’s authors interpreted the relatively high ranking of these issues as indicative of local reaction to busing.24

African Americans had little voice in such important matters as busing. By 1976 black registration in Louisville had increased to 21% of the total, but only 67 African Americans held elective offices, which amounted to “only one percent of 6,561 elected officials in the state.” The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights noted that “[b]ased on the proportion of blacks in the state’s voting age population, Kentucky would need a total of 433 black elected officials … in order to ensure representation to black citizens throughout the state.” On the bright side, black representation had increased by 157.7% since 1969, but a disturbing downward trend had emerged since 1972. Commissioners reported that “[o]nly one-fourth as many additional elective offices were gained annually in the four years between 1972 and 1976 as in the previous three year period.” Nationally, Kentucky was in 23rd position, “behind eleven Southern states,” which was a decline of eight spots from its 1970 rank. Again, most of the Southern states that ranked higher were those covered by the Voting Rights Act. Louisville and Jefferson County accounted for 11 of the state’s total of 67 black officeholders.25

Two years later, Human Rights commissioners sounded decidedly pessimistic. The 78 African Americans holding elective offices in 1978 was 442 short of the number needed for adequate representation. Louisville, however, had elected a fourth black state legislator. Nine other blacks held various city and county positions, bringing the area’s total to 13, an increase of 2 positions in 2 years. The state report concluded that “[s]evere underrepresentation of blacks in public offices continues” and delineated areas of special concern. Only one African American was a fiscal court member, which meant “blacks are virtually excluded from decision making at the county level.”26

By 1982, African Americans in Kentucky had actually lost seven elective seats since 1978, although the black percentage of the population remained constant. Blacks in Jefferson County held 17% of all statewide elective positions occupied by African Americans. Every Southern state had more elected blacks than Kentucky, but, to be fair, each one also had larger black populations as a percentage of the whole. The states with the most African Americans in office were Louisiana and Mississippi, both of which were compelled to comply with the original Voting Rights Act. Kentucky Human Rights Commissioners observed that “[t]here are few Kentucky communities where blacks can successfully run for elective offices on the black vote alone, … especially in cities where the officials are elected at-large.” Finally, the report concluded that “the goal of having an adequate racial balance of elected officies [sic] in Kentucky is nowhere in sight in 1982.”27

In that same year, the United States Congress addressed the issue of inadequate representation by amending the Voting Rights Act. Disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Mobile v. Bolden that evidence of intentional discrimination must exist in a vote dilution claim, Congress authorized challenges of electoral systems and practices based on the actual result of dilution. Congressmen also specifically defined actions that constituted vote dilution and established that lack of electoral success by a “protected class” could be considered as evidence of possible dilutionary schemes. The amendments also “extended [protection against vote dilution] to all jurisdictions in the country.”28

The 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, as well as numerous Supreme Court decisions since 1964, stimulated favorable activity within Louisville. By subjecting Kentucky to Section 2 jurisdiction, the amendments spurred Louisville officials to take preemptive action.

In that year, city officials changed the election procedures and ward boundaries. Prior to this date, Board of Aldermen candidates ran in the primary on a city-wide basis. This system was detrimental to black candidates because affluent white voters would put together and fund a slate of candidates. Poorly funded minority office-seekers could not overcome white organization and campaign funding. Since 1982, ward residents vote for party nominees from their ward in the primary. The candidates must live in the ward they seek to represent. The two top vote-getters from each ward run in the general election on a city-wide basis. In this manner, voters are assured of representation by a member of their community. City officials also altered ward boundaries for the express purpose of creating four predominantly black wards instead of three. In 1980, there were three black aldermen. Four African Americans now hold those positions, thus ensuring that representation on the Board of Aldermen more closely reflects the black percentage of Louisville’s population. Both the creation of a new majority-black ward and the elimination of the at-large primary for aldermen offer compelling proof that Louisville acted in response to the Voting Rights Act’s mandates against vote dilution and at-large voting districts.29

The last year in which Louisville broke down its registration figures by race was 1994. In the 18 years that had elapsed since these figures were last available, the percentage of blacks in total registration declined from 21% to 19%, although blacks as a percentage of the city’s population increased by almost 6%. Relatively speaking, African Americans suffered a serious decline in electoral participation during this time period.30

Federal legislators from the Deep South saw the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a punitive measure reminiscent of Reconstruction days. African Americans welcomed it as fulfillment of a long-overdue promise. Officials and residents of the border state of Kentucky apparently occupied a neutral position, much as they did during the Civil War and its aftermath. The foregoing examination, however, presents a portrait of racial imbalance similar to that in the former Confederacy. This fact tends to be obscured by the blatant, often violent, discriminatory tactics of states in the Deep South. Yet comparative racial harmony does not equal the Constitutional guarantee of full citizenship rights.31

Because Kentucky was not one of the most flagrant violators of black suffrage as defined by Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 Act did not apply to Kentucky directly. Evidence indicates, however, that it could have benefited Kentucky’s African Americans had it done so. Increased voter registration and civil rights activity in the state at the time of the Act’s passage support the contention that Kentucky’s black citizens had both the desire and the need to gain indirectly from it. The absence of the legal protections afforded by the Act frustrated their hopes. In comparison to covered states, Kentucky blacks made minuscule progress in both enfranchisement and representation until the 1980s, at which time they actually lost ground. On the positive side, the 1982 amendments led to beneficial changes in Louisville’s electoral methods and structures. Since Kentucky became subject that year to federal oversight of vote dilution claims, one can surmise that positive sanctions afford to African Americans a greater chance of achieving equality.

The Voting Rights Act will be up for renewal in 2007. Many critics of the Act’s increased emphasis on representation as opposed to mere suffrage rights assert that the Act is no longer necessary. The history of black enfranchisement and representation in Kentucky serves as a valuable counterpoint to their arguments. Black political rights remain in a perilous position that calls for continued federal oversight.

Notes

1. For an overview of the Fifteenth Amendment and efforts to circumvent it, see The Oxford Companion to The Supreme Court of the United States, ed. Kermit L. Hall and others (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Henry Lee Moon provides a revealing discussion of hindrances to black electoral participation in “A Century of Negro Suffrage.” The Crisis, (April 1970), as does Richard Kluger in Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality (New York: Vintage Books, 1977); The restrictions, as well as Congressional efforts to surmount them by the Enforcement Acts of the 1870s, are detailed by Everette Swinney, “Enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment, 1870-1877,” The Journal of Southern History 28 (May 1962) and by Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction: 1865-1877 (Toronto: Vintage Books, 1965); The numbers and percentages of disfranchised African Americans are discussed by Moon, by Ball in “Voting Rights Act of 1965,” The Oxford Companion to The Supreme Court, 902 and by James Weldon Johnson in “The Gentlemen’s Agreement and the Negro Vote,” The Crisis, (June 1971), 132-134.


2. Quote from Robert D. Loevy, ed. “The Impact and Aftermath of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Passage of the Law That Ended Segregation (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1997), 336. This work details the Kennedy administration’s reaction to the intensifying civil rights conflicts of the 1960s. Ralph D. Abernathy provides an insider’s account of Bloody Sunday in And The Walls Came Tumbling Down (New York: Harper Perennial, 1989), 324-330.
3. Abernathy’s words quoted from And The Walls Came Tumbling Down, 344. For the content of Johnson’s plea to Congress, see Lyndon Baines Johnson, “Voting Rights Speech to Congress,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, 23 (Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1965), 445. Bernard Schwartz, in Statutory History of the United States, Civil Rights, Part II (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1970), relates much of the congressional debate over the Voting Rights Act as well as the stipulations of the compromise bill that finally passed both houses. The House of Representatives approved this measure by a vote of 328 to 74 on August 3. The Senate followed suit on August 4, voting 79 to 18 for approval. Details of the signing ceremony and Johnson’s comments are in the Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of the 89th Congress, First Session, Vol. 3, Part 14 (July 28, 1965-August 9, 1965).
4. States subject to the Act’s provisions were those “which (1) the Attorney General determines maintained on November 1, 1964, any test or device, and with respect to which (2) the Director of the Census determines that less than 50 per centum of the persons of voting age resident therein were registered on November 1, 1964, or that less than 50 per centum of such persons voted in the presidential election of November 1964.” Based on this formula, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia and substantial portions of North Carolina were initially subject to federal oversight. Schwartz, Statutory History of The United States; Kentucky’s black population has consistently hovered around 7% of the state’s total population since 1960. In Louisville, African Americans have comprised approximately 25% of the city’s total population since 1970. This data was obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, 1994.
5. In Life Behind A Veil: Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky 1865-1930 (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 182-83, George C. Wright provides ample evidence of the racial situation in Kentucky in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Marjorie M. Norris’s account of early protests over a segregated transit system in “An Early Instance of Nonviolence: The Louisville Demonstrations of 1870-1871,” The Journal of Southern History 32 (November 1966): 487-504, is a revealing glimpse of early efforts by African Americans to overcome their subordinate status in the state. Lowell H. Harrison and James C. Klotter in A New History of Kentucky (Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997), detail Kentucky’s response to the Fifteenth Amendment.
6. Quotes from George Carlton Wright, “Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky, 1890-1930,” (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1977), 40-41. Some of the valuable information in this dissertation was not carried over to his later published work, Life Behind A Veil.

7. Marion B. Lucas, A History of Blacks in Kentucky (Frankfort, Kentucky: Kentucky Historical Society, 1992), 264-65; Vote dilution became the primary method of disfranchisement after 1965. One method commonly used, at-large elections, made it extremely difficult for black candidates to win because they could only win by gaining a large portion of the white vote in addition to black bloc voting. Convincing studies of the impact of at-large elections have been done by: John Kramer, “The Election of Blacks to City Councils, A 1970 States Report and a Prolegomenon,” Journal of Black Studies 1 (June 1971); Charles S. Bullock, III, “The Election of Blacks in the South: Preconditions and Consequences,” American Journal of Political Science 19 (November 1975); Albert K. Karnig, “Black Representation on City Councils, The Impact of District Elections and Socioeconomic Factors,” Urban Affairs Quarterly12 (December 1976); and Margaret K. Latimer, “Black Political Representation in Southern Cities, Election Systems and Other Causal Variables,” Urban Affairs Quarterly 15 (September 1979).




  1. Wright, Life Behind A Veil, 182-83.

9. Wright, Life Behind A Veil, 207; George H. Yates, Two Hundred Years at the Falls of the Ohio: A History of Louisville and Jefferson County (Louisville: The Heritage Corporation of Louisville and Jefferson County, 1979), 147.


10. For a discussion of Democratic efforts to arouse white backlash, see Wright, “Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky,” 223-24; Louisville Courier-Journal, Oct. 18, 1919.


  1. Harrison and Klotter, A New History of Kentucky, 251.

12. Quotes pertaining to 1933 election from Wright, Life Behind A Veil, 260; quote from Wright, “Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky,” 397.


13. Wright, “Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky,” 398.


  1. Louisville Courier-Journal, Dec. 21, 1956.

15. Louisville Courier-Journal, July 20, 1960; The number of unregistered voters and outline of registration requirements from “Help Pass The Word: Voting Registration Ends Sept. 10,” Louisville 11 (August 20, 1960): 9. In 1960, voters had to re-register if they moved from the city to the county or vice-versa, if they failed to vote “in two consecutive elections,” or if they changed their name, even for such an innocuous reason as getting married. Voters who moved into a different precinct after the registration deadline of September 10 lost the right to vote on November 8. To register, voters must have lived in Kentucky for a year, in Jefferson County for six months, and in their precinct for 60 days prior to election day.




  1. Kentucky, Jefferson County Board of Elections, 1963, 1964.




  1. Kentucky, Jefferson County Board of Elections, 1965, 1966, 1967.

18. The account of the May 27th meeting and the subsequent riots come from the Louisville Courier-Journal, June 16, 1968. The August bombings are noted in a report by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, “The Role of the Black People in the History of Kentucky from Pioneer Days to the Present,” Kentucky’s Black Heritage (Frankfort, Kentucky: Commonwealth of Kentucky, 1971), 134.


19. Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, “The Role,” 134.
20. Kentucky, Jefferson County Board of Elections, 1969; quote from “The College Students: What Are They Trying To Tell Us?” Louisville 20 (October 20, 1969): 14; “Twenty Negroes Hold Elective Offices in Ky,” Mayfield, KY Messenger, March 10, 1969. Blacks in Louisville also held two seats on the Louisville Board of Aldermen and the office of city prosecutor.
21. Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, “The Role,” 115.
22. Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Kentucky Directory of Black Elected Officials, (Frankfort, Kentucky, 1972). Henry Owens III and Lois Morris also won city-wide elections in 1972 to represent the Eleventh and Twelfth Wards respectively.
23. Louisville Courier-Journal, Sept. 28, 1972.
24. Wendell H. Ford, The Public Papers of Governor Wendell H. Ford, 1971-1974 ed. Landis Jones (Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1978), 40; Annual Report, Louisville and Jefferson County Human Relations Committee, (Louisville, Kentucky, 1973-1974), 6; Harrison and Klotter, A New History of Kentucky, 391; Urban Studies Center at the University of Louisville, Community Priorities and Evaluations, (February 1976), I-11.
25. Kentucky, Jefferson County Board of Elections, 1976; Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, 1976 Kentucky Directory of Black Elected Officials, (Frankfort, Kentucky, 1976), ii.
26. Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, 1978 Kentucky Directory of Black Elected Officials, (Frankfort, Kentucky, 1978), 7-25. Commissioners lamented the fact that “appointments of blacks to vacancies in Kentucky have been used to maintain the status quo rather than to enhance opportunities for black representation.”

27. Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, 1982 Kentucky Directory of Black Elected Officials, (Frankfort, Kentucky 1982), 3-32.


28. Quote from Nancy K. Bannon, “The Voting Rights Act: Over the Hill At Age 30?” Human Rights, (Fall 1995), 22; Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980): Armand Derfner, “Vote Dilution and The Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982,” in Minority Vote Dilution, ed. Chandler Davidson (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1984), 145-46. Section 2 (a) of the amended Act states that “no voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
29. Linda James, clerk of the Louisville Board of Aldermen from 1985 to 1992 and currently employed by the City Archives, provided this revealing overview in a telephone interview with the author on 8 January 1999; In 1966, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in South Carolina v. Katzenbach 383 U.S. 301, (1966). The Court’s decision in Rogers v. Lodge 458 U.S. 613 (1982) held that an at-large system in a Georgia county was unconstitutional because it had “been maintained for the purpose of denying blacks equal access to the political processes in the county.” A series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s, however, reflected the Court’s increasing hostility to districting based on race. Decisions in Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630 (1993), Miller v. Johnson 515 U.S. 900 (1995) and Shaw v. Hunt 517 U.S. 899 (1996) indicate that racial gerrymandering of the type practiced by Louisville’s Board of Aldermen is unconstitutional. Good discussions of the Supreme Court’s role in the changing electoral landscape are found in articles by Robert M. Cover, “The Origins of Judicial Activism in the Protection of Minorities,” The Yale Law Journal 91 (June 1982): 1294, and Ronald E. Weber, “Redistricting and the Courts, Judicial Activism in the 1990s,” American Politics Quarterly 23 (April 1995): 226.
30. Kentucky, Jefferson County Board of Elections 1994; U.S. Census Bureau, 1994.
31. The Congressional debates over the Voting Rights Act are startlingly similar to those of their forerunners during battles over the Civil War Amendments. Compare Schwartz, Statutory History of the United States, 1470-71, to Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 88.






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