No African American has won statewide office in Mississippi in 129 years – here’s why

Mississippi is home to the highest percentage of African Americans of any state in the country.

And yet, Mississippi hasn’t elected an African American candidate to statewide office since 1890.

That’s 129 years.

John Stuart Mill wrote about “the tyranny of the majority” – the idea that an electoral majority will use the political structure to impose its will on the minority population – in his essay “On Liberty” in 1859.

Mill could have used the way Mississippi chooses statewide offices as the symbol of this tyranny. Mississippi requires winners to receive more than 50% of the votes. When no one receives a majority, the Mississippi legislature, not the voters, chooses the winner.

In late May 2019, four African American Mississippians sued in federal court to end this practice, which they say was designed to keep black candidates from winning.

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“The scheme has its basis in racism – an 1890 post-Reconstruction attempt to keep African Americans out of statewide office,” said former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group backing the lawsuit.

As a professor of political science who has written about African Americans seeking elected office, I’m especially interested in barriers to minority candidates running for office.

Let’s look at what happens when candidates have to win a majority of votes, or compete in large geographical areas – not just in Mississippi, but around the country.

Case study: Georgia

One interesting example is Georgia.

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