South Leads in Black Officeholders

By Staff

Vol. 9, No. 5, 1987, p. 25

Mississippi leads the nation in total number of black elected officials and Alabama has the highest percentage of black officeholders in the United States, according to the annual Black Elected Officials: A National Roster, published by the Joint Center for Political Studies.

Although blacks in the South continued to post electoral gains, the overall increase in black officeholders slowed for the January 1986 to January 1987 period surveyed; the nationwide increase last year was 4.1 percent, compared to 6.1 percent the previous year and 6.2 percent two years ago.

The ten states with the highest numbers of black elected officials are Mississippi (548), Louisiana (505), Alabama (448), Georgia (445), Illinois (434), North Carolina (353), South Carolina (340), Arkansas (319), Michigan (316), and California (293). Nationally, the total increased from 6,424 to 6,681.

Not surprisingly, the geographic distribution of black elected officials closely parallels the distribution of the total black population in the U.S. The South has 53 percent of the nation's black population and 62 percent of all black elected officeholders. The second largest concentration of black officeholders, 19.2 percent, is in the North Central U.S., where 19.8 percent of the nation's black population is located. The Northeast, with 18.5 percent of the total black population, has 10.6 percent of black elected officials, and 5.7 percent of all black elected officials are in the West, where 8.9 percent of all blacks live.

Southern blacks have had good success in translating their population concentration into electoral gains at the state and local levels but have managed to win few federal offices. Only three of twenty-three blacks in the U.S. House of Representatives are from Southern states--Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, Mike Espy of Mississippi, and Harold Ford of Tennessee.

A total of 71 black elected officials were elected last year in jurisdictions where no black American had ever before held elective office. Also, the number of black women elected officials continued to climb (to 1,564), and has now almost tripled since 1975 (530).

Seven blacks hold statewide office and 410 serve in legislatures. At the municipal level, 303 blacks serve as mayors and 2,485 as council members. The number of black mayors in cities larger than 30,000 population increased from twenty-eight to thirty-four.

There is a direct correlation, the Joint Center for Political Studies said, between black voting age population and the number of black elected officials. Mississippi leads in black elected officials but also has the highest proportion of voting-age blacks (30.8 percent). Voting-age blacks are 66.6 percent of the total voting-age population in the District of Columbia, where 67.8 percent of all elected officials are black.

There are no black elected officials at all in Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, where blacks are less than .05 percent of the total population.

For a copy of Black Elected Officials: A National Roster, 1987, send $29.50 to Publications Office, Joint Center for Political Studies, 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., #400, Washington, D.C. 20004.