The Story: New Democrat

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Selma to Montgomery

Subsequently, voter registration among African Americans saw dramatic increases throughout the South. In 1962, only 29 percent of black southerners of voting age were registered voters. By 1968, the figure had increased to over 60 percent. The black electorate now supports Democratic candidates in all levels of government at rates of 80 percent or more (Bullock 14). As conservative Democrats have switched to join the Republican Party, African American voters have helped fill the space left behind.

Additionally, the black electorate has helped to increase the number of African Americans in office. Seats in the southern legislature filled by African Americans rose from only 35 to over 300 between 1969 and 2001. Redistricting to create additional predominantly minority districts during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s has also had a hand in this change. For example, in 1972, redistricting in Atlanta aided in the election of Andrew Young, the first black congressman from Georgia since Reconstruction (Bullock 16). Like Young, many other civil rights leaders went on to become political leaders following the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Democratic Party has also experienced some negative effects of redistricting. While the practice has resulted in the election of many African American leaders, it has simultaneously reduced the voter base of white southern Democrats. For example, the number of black congressional leaders increased from three to seventeen between 1990 and 1992. However, during the same two year period the number of white southern Democrats fell by twenty-five. The consequences are twofold: the number of black leaders has grown, thus improving direct representation for African Americans, and the number of white Democratic leaders has decreased, reducing the total number of party members in office. This reduction limits the party’s ability to form biracial coalitions on moderate and progressive policy issues and subsequently decreases indirect representation for communities of color (Bass xi).