Race, Power, and Political Emergence in Memphis

By Sharon D. Wright | Go to book overview
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The Role of Race in Local Electoral Politics


The issue of race has always been an important one in American politics. It continues to affect the amount of economic and political power that blacks and other minority groups receive in their respective cities. In this text, black political emergence refers to the black community’s efforts to elect representation in proportion to their numbers in the population. After achieving proportional representation, black electorates seek political incorporation—“an equal or leading role in a dominant coalition that is strongly committed to minority interests”. 1

Three primary factors have hampered black power and political emergence. First, disfranchisement and political machines prevented the elections of black political figures and diluted the black vote. During the mid-1860s, the Fifteenth Amendment granted the right of suffrage to African Americans who then elected the first black political figures in the nation. Laws were implemented, however, to disfranchise black voters for decades. Also, whites used economic and physical intimidation to “keep blacks in their place.” In the majority of Southern and some Northern cities, blacks could neither vote nor elect representation after the Reconstruction years.

In cities like Baltimore, Chicago, and Memphis, blacks voted but lacked power and political emergence primarily because of machine politics. Black bosses of “submachines” mobilized the black vote for the machine’s candidates; yet, the black community received few incen-


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