Election day in Mississippi
By L.C. Dorsey
Vol. 2, No. 3, 1979, pp. 7-8
As almost a hundred people crowded into Henry J. Kirksey’s campaign headquarters, it was clear that they were also keeping their eyes on other races in the state.
The November 6 general election saw the culmination of a concerted struggle for the fulfillment of the “one man, one vote” doctrine, which began in the mid-fifties, escalated in 1964 with the “Freedom Summer” activities and finally, fourteen years later, was realized when a federal court ordered plan guaranteed the election of Blacks to the Mississippi legislature.
Henry Jay, as Kirksey is affectionately called by friends, was one of the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit against the state with other members of the old Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The suit became the full-time occupation for Kirksey who worked with a series of attorneys over the years to legally reapportion the state to allow Blacks a fair shake in state government.
A lawsuit filed by Kirksey and several other citizens in 1975 has resulted in three Blacks from Hinds County joining the legislature, making a total of four Blacks in the House of Representatives (Douglas Anderson, Fred Banks, Horace Buckley, and Robert Clark from Holmes County).
Watching other races, the supporters in the Kirksey headquarters considered some of the Black candidates “movement” people. While others were “opportunists” or even “front men” for the White establishment. Several of the Blacks vying for the newly created positions in the legislature simply decided that they would run, sought the endorsement of powerful people in their areas and
announced their candidacy.
Whatever the political and legal events that brought Mississippians to the 1979 General election, it was obvious that Mississippi politics would never be the same. “I couldn’t sleep,” Kirksey acknowledged in anticipating election day.
Kirksey’s youthful campaign manager talked about the strategy that was supposed to guarantee Kirksey’s victory. They’re voting heavily in Jackson, but the vote appears to be splitting enough so that Henry will win,” E.C. Foster said.
All over the state Blacks were being urged to go to the polls to vote. A worker from gubernatorial candidate William Winter’s campaign headquarters called: “There are some people in West Jackson who need rides to the polls. Can you pick them up?” he asked. A quick check of the map showed that the people lived in another district. A call to the local Labor Council’s office was made and cars were dispatched from there to get the voters.
In Mound Bayou in Boliver County, where there was a hotly contested Sheriff’s race, a16yearold Black was in charge of the Winter campaign machinery. He busily ferried people to the polls for both Winter and Richard Crowe, a Black man running for Sheriff.
Yet the stream of information about voting irregularities also began coming m. Amzie Moore, a long-time political leader in Boliver County drove to the “Crowe for Sheriff Headquarters” to complain about the way he and other voters were pressured at the polls. There was one report that incumbent William B. Alexander, challenged by a Black was inside a polling station telling the voters to “remember your Senator” in plain view of a federal observer and poll workers.
In nearby Marshall County, early reports indicated that police stationed at the polls were deterring voters from the polls. There were also charges of vote-buying.
Finally, though the votes were in.
Kirksey, who is expected to be the chairman of the Black Caucas in the 1980 Legislature, defeated two White opponents for Senate District 28. It was Kirksey’s fourth bid for public office, having lost two previous state bids and a U.S. Senate bid last year.
Douglas Anderson, one of four Blacks elected to the House in 1975, had prevailed over a former campaign worker. Hillman Frazier, a newcomer to politics, went to an easy victory over a Republican candidate. Political observers credit his success to a serious, door-to-doOr “talking to people” campaign.
Judy 0. Cambrell, a Black attorney running in a predominantly White district, lost to the incumbent Dick Hall.
Bennie Thompson, mayor of Bolton, is a newly elected supervisor in Hinds County, having survived a highly controversial campaign.
In Boliver County, White incumbent Alexander prevailed. Richard Crowe lost.
No one seems optimistic that the seventeen new Black members of the state legislature will create instant change, but a Kirksey volunteer and senior at Tougaloo College said, “At least we will have someone up there who will fight for us, and let us know what is going on.”
Johnny Todd, Black mayor of Rosedale, while happy about the election results, was disappointed about the failure in his home county Bolivar. “We have to organize,” he said. Milburn Crowe, agreed that the lack of organization in Bolivar County allowed some politicians and leaders to exchange money for votes and voter influence. “We have to start now to organize so that we are ready next time,” said Crowe.
It was a day of victories in Mississippi and the moment to begin again for the next times.
L.C. Dorsey is a civil rights worker and author of Freedom Came to Mississippi.