Battle for the Ballot: A History of Black Electoral Politics and Voter Suppression in Florida, 1944-2000s

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Mitchell, Allison, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Harold, Claudrena, AS-History (HIST) AS-Dean's Office (DEAN), University of Virginia

This dissertation, using Florida as a case study, chronicles the evolving role of Black Americans in political realignment in the South. It starts with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1944 Smith v. Allwright ruling and extends to the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. The five core chapters delineate significant developments in Black Floridians’ increasing participation in electoral politics. The project begins with civil rights organizations’ voter registration efforts after the end of all-white Democratic primaries. It culminates with the election of the state’s first Black congresspersons since Reconstruction. Concurrently, the GOP gradually surpassed the Democratic party as the dominant political party in the South. Black Floridians played a pivotal role in this realignment, deftly navigating the two political parties at the local and state levels. This project underscores the significance of state and local politics in political realignment, a process that necessitated both parties to engage with Black people.

It traces developments in Black political organizing and involvement in electoral politics by emphasizing points of contention in southern politics that display the limitation of the U.S. two-party system. Its analysis of the NAACP’s rebuilding of grassroots organizing in the 1950s and CORE’s participation in the Voter Education Project in the 1960s underscores intraracial conflicts around political organizing. During these decades, activists devoted themselves to an organizing praxis in which electoral politics could create concrete change in the everyday lives of Black Americans. Their dreams fell short by the 1970s and 1980s, as Black Democratic politicians in Florida became increasingly disgruntled with white Democrats’ noncommittal stance on diversifying the party’s leadership. Further, white Republicans, under the guise of supporting minority representation and upholding voting rights law, developed relationships with Black and Hispanic lawmakers to push for voting and reapportionment legislation that benefited the GOP. In 1992, a few Black Democratic state lawmakers sided with Republicans to create state and congressional majority-minority districts. Their alliance led to Florida and other southern states electing their first Black congresspersons since Reconstruction. It solidified a conservative takeover of the South by the decade’s end. This project ends with a brief reflection on the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election and the previous state-level political decisions that led to its significant impact.  

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
African American History, U.S. Politics, Civil Rights Studies, Voting Rights
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