The brief explosion of black political representation in the second half of the 19th century inspired widespread efforts to disenfranchise black voters via literacy tests, the grandfather clause, and other laws.
Despite the best efforts of social justice organizers, lawyers and politicians, such methods continue to be used in the modern age, to the detriment of black voters and arguably other marginalized groups who are clamoring for political power.
Gerrymandering, the process by which state officials redraw district boundaries to dilute the political power of racial and interest groups, has gained popularity as the strategy of choice. Months after President Donald Trump’s (R) failed reelection efforts, Republicans continue to consolidate power at the state and federal levels by redrawing district maps.
In Tennessee, where Republicans have long enjoyed a majority in the state legislature, the new congressional map places two Democratic incumbents, Representatives London Lamar and Torrey Harris, in the same district of Memphis.
The rural districts would also acquire parts of Memphis and Rutherford, Tennessee, both of which are home to a significant portion of blacks and other non-white residents. Nashville, located in one of Tennessee’s fastest-growing regions, was also split into three parts, prompting longtime U.S. Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN 05) to run out of re-election .
While a successful legal challenge seems unlikely, some grassroots organizers like Tamara Bates aim to educate black voters and lay the groundwork for the 2024 election.
During the latter part of last year, Bates and other members of The Equity Alliance engaged state lawmakers on BlackPrint, a compilation of policy solutions designed to consolidate black power. They also groomed candidates for state legislature and the school board.
“We’re playing the long game,” Bates said. “What happened is reactive, but the Equity Alliance has been ahead of the curve when it comes to tracking upcoming bills and policies. We also stacked our dominoes for 2024 by building our bench. There are many people who put their hats in the ring to run for office. »
A game that has lasted for decades
Each decade after the census is completed, states and other jurisdictions undergo a redistricting process to equalize the population of each political district. Whether such actions qualify as gerrymandering depends on which groups take issue with the redistricting map proposals.
At a time when parts of the Voting Rights Act have been removed and efforts to pass new federal voter protection laws have been delayed, the battle to protect black political power continues at the state level. , in legislatures and courts.
This week, federal courts in Arkansas heard a challenge to the state’s redistricting map. The Arkansas Public Policy Panel, the Arkansas State Conference, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) asked U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky to block the new card which they believe dilutes black political power. Days earlier, Rudofsky had refused to recuse himself from the trial despite his ties to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
Similar situations have occurred in Prince George’s County, Maryland, New York, Alabama and North Carolina, with challenges coming from Democrats and Republicans. In North Carolina, the state Supreme Court heard a case this week to determine the constitutionality of a redistricting map approved by Republican lawmakers last year.
The new map, aptly named the 11-3 map, redistributes the state of North Carolina so that Republicans dominate 11 of the districts. Changes include the splitting of North Carolina’s 1st District, located near the North Carolina-Virginia border. On the new map, majority black districts that include Greensboro and Winston-Salem have also been divided.
This sparked fury from several Democrats, including Rep. GK Butterfield, who in response announced his retirement in a video last November. A three-judge panel from North Carolina lower courts later referred to the new map as a form of political gerrymandering. However, this did not meet their constitutional violation threshold.
But Butterfield, first elected to represent North Carolina’s 1st District in 2004, vehemently disagreed. He said that for more than 20 years, Republicans, with the use of election data and mapping software, have manipulated district maps to suit their political interests. Butterfield called it a response to the growing political power of Democrats and blacks.
He also predicted that the North Carolina Supreme Court would rule against the new map, forcing the state legislature to redraw the borders.
“I tell voters to pay attention to what’s happening in your state capitol and in Washington, DC,” Butterfield said. “What legislators do today and tomorrow will affect generations to come. You need to be aware, informed and engaged.
Redistricting policy on the home front
The district, a majority Democratic city, has racial, economic, social and generational fault lines that the redistricting process has exposed, as seen in discussions about the future layout of Wards 5, 7 and 8.
Weeks after the approval of the finalized map, members of these communities continue to embrace and navigate their new realities.
DC Council Member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) recently led the third of several redistricting meetings to determine next steps to include the more affluent and resource-rich Navy Yard community in Ward 8. The expansion of the Ward 8 beyond the Anacostia River and into Navy Yard, formerly Ward 6, not only adds more amenities to Ward 8, but also increases the neighborhood’s wealth gap and creates three new ANC seats for residents to fill of Navy Yard.
In the months before DC’s redistricting committee approved the new boundary lines, Ward 8 residents wondered if the addition of the Navy Yard would weaken black political representation. Conversations also focused on the racial makeup of Ward 8 ANCs and the likelihood of non-black people becoming ANC commissioners.
However, as ANC Commissioner Jamila White (ANC 8A05) explained, Ward 8 residents involved in the talks were cautiously optimistic about the expansion of their community. Even with some concerns about changing demographics, White said the Ward 8 community members she hired seized the opportunity to attract more investment opportunities, create racial cohesion and s to address the equity issues that plague their communities.
Regarding racial equity, White said the district government still has a long way to go in prioritizing black residents. While recounting the redistricting hearings she attended last year, she said residents in other parts of the district often expressed apprehension about merging with majority black Wards 7 and 8.
“The way people [from other communities] talked about wards 7 and 8 was disheartening. They looked down on us so much,” White said. “For DC to be one of the most progressive places [in the country]some of the verbal testimonies [at the hearings] had undertones of anti-black racism and a need not to be associated with black people. It was clear that some people thought they were above us.