Race, Partisanship, and the Voting Rights Act (Vra): African-Americans in Texas from Reconstruction to the Republican Redistricting of 2004

By Clarke, Monet | Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Race, Partisanship, and the Voting Rights Act (Vra): African-Americans in Texas from Reconstruction to the Republican Redistricting of 2004


Clarke, Monet, Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights


I. INTRODUCTION

Understanding the failures of partisan battles during Reconstruction sets a framework to understand the necessity of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), and the impact of partisanship upon African-Americans in modern Texas politics after the VRA. Since the passage of the VRA of 1965, African-American representation can be seen as a sophisticated power arrangement as opposed to the racially charged battles of over a century ago. While reconstruction-era political battles between the Republican Party and Southern Democrats in many ways mirror today's partisan battles, the current ideological views are essentially reversed. Today, the Republican Party woos minority voters by claims of "compassionate conservatism." This is a far cry from the Republican Party that led the fight to end slavery and the racist institutions of the South. Texas serves as a case study for an analysis of African-American political incorporation. Politicians and their electorate both must form relationships based upon common goals rather than those established solely upon racial or ethnic backgrounds. The most effective multi-racial coalitions will affirm group identity while working to further the efforts of the VRA.

I will attempt to prove that coalition politics based upon common goals (especially common economic background, rather than skin-color or ethnic origin) is the optimal way for African-Americans to win a political contest against a dominant elite. In this paper, I compare the history of African-American disenfranchisement with present day racial politics to show that the failure to organize an effective coalition has left political parties, and minorities within those parties, without a political voice. First, I will explain a concept called the Southern Realignment that explains how, in the period following Reconstruction, Texas pioneered a movement away from elite control over the political process which, in the South, perpetuated neutrally-designed policies that discriminated against African-Americans in operation. From this point, I explain how these discriminatory policies necessitated the VRA and its resulting jurisprudence. I use the recent Texas redistricting as a case study to show how party in-fighting within the Texas legislature mirrors Reconstruction-era power grabs. Lastly, I will explore new case precedent in the area of partisan gerrymandering claims and show its relation to VRA claims against recent Texas redistricting.

II. THE ANTICIPATION OF THE SOUTHERN REALIGNMENT: V. O. KEY'S PROGNOSIS FOR TEXAS

Political power obtained before the Civil War enabled Southern elites to rein in the formation of class-based coalitions between former slaves and poor whites during Reconstruction.1 Because only African-Americans were enslaved at this time, the conservative rich could convince poor whites that both groups benefited from slavery.2 Thus, the elites utilized racist attitudes to prevent poor whites from seeing their commonality with enslaved blacks,3 even though both groups were oppressed by the elite planter class since neither group had a share of political and economic power as great as the elites did.4 These manipulative efforts had unified Southern whites for the cause of slavery, even though the economic climate could have fostered political bonds between blacks and poor whites.5 Instead, despite their common economic goals, neither blacks nor poor whites had the political skill and unifying strength of the planters.6 Racism against blacks thus obscured the apparent class differences between rich and poor whites, and it removed threats to the political and economic power of the white elite.7

In Texas before the Civil War, the planter class controlled the distribution of resources through politics for their own benefit.8 Ultimately, the planter class influenced the government to enact "laws and ordinances that allowed the cotton farmer to thrive."9 For example, nominal property taxes were assessed, laws were established to maintain the slave labor force, the state underwrote the bonds of private railroad companies, and funds were diverted from public school appropriations to support these money-making endeavors that benefited the planter class. …

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