We've been overcome: black voter mobilization and white resistance in Richmond, VA. 1954-1985

Hayter, Julian Maxwell, Department of History, University of Virginia
Balogh, Brian, As-History, University of Virginia
Harold, Claudrena, Department of History, University of Virginia
Goluboff, Risa, Lw-Law School Central, University of Virginia
Mckee, Guian, Pr-Miller Center, University of Virginia

This story first examines the political mobilization of black professionals in Richmond, Virginia that emerged nearly a decade prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). These professionals were known as the Richmond Crusade for Voters. While African Americans in the South engaged in passive resistance movements and direct action protests, Crusaders not only registered thousands of black voters prior to the VRA's ratification, they helped elect an African American to city council in 1964.

Upon this foundation, I examine the local interplay between African American and vested white interests following the VRA and Richmond's annexation of Chesterfield County. The story then chronicles the litigation that followed annexation, exploring its impact on vote dilution and the federal government's role in mediating debates between Richmond's black electorate and whites struggling to maintain control of city hall. By focusing on the implementation of federal voting rights mandates locally, this story features strange bedfellows: white racists and advocates of black political empowerment who shared an improbable interest in repatriating citizens from the annexed area.

The solution that emerged, a ward system that virtually guaranteed blacks representation on the city council, created unintended consequences that surprised both advocates of black mobilization and those leading white backlash to the VRA. Although Richmond's district system eventually yielded a black majority city council, the value of this symbolic victory soon faded. Black politicians in swing wards found that white and black constituents demanded basic services — services that were difficult to deliver without forging alliances with the Richmond's white power structure. Council members affiliated with Richmond's white private sector were still the gatekeepers to the local political economy. Thus, new black leaders soon displaced politicians who appealed to black empowerment- empowerment crucial to mobilization in the first place. The new generation of black leaders forged relationships with white officials on whites' terms. In the end, Crusaders did not anticipate that the ward system they promoted might compromise the unity of the black electorate they were largely responsible for building. By 1985, results-oriented economic pragmatism and district-based interracial political coalitions undermined the solidarity of Richmond's black electorate.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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