Reaction to the fact that black voters were either invited or influenced to take part in a Mississippi Republican second primary vote has run the gamut from histrionics to humor, but the fact is that the history of electoral entanglement between blacks and the Mississippi GOP is in great measure coming full circle.
The 2014 Mississippi Republican Senate second primary is far from the first time that black voters have been involved in Republican politics in Mississippi.
After the Republican Reconstruction government established in Mississippi in 1865 and led almost exclusively by black public officials was deposed by Mississippi Democrats in the 1875 elections, the GOP fell on hard times. The push was called the Mississippi Plan devised by Mississippi Democrats to overthrow Republican rule.
After 1875, the Republican Party in Mississippi faded into irrelevance for a time. University of Southern Mississippi historian Neil R. McMillen in a 1982 article in The Journal of Southern History titled “Perry W. Howard: Boss of Black-and-Tan Republicanism in Mississippi, 1924-1960” offered a succinct account of what happened next: “For some two decades thereafter, largely through a peculiar arrangement known as the ‘fusion principle’ – under which white Democrats and black Republicans in a half dozen black-majority counties cooperated to elect biracial and bipartisan slates of candidates – the party remained an active if increasingly minor force in state politics. Following the adoption of the constitution of 1890, under which all but a bare fraction of the state’s Negro citizens were disenfranchised, it virtually ceased to exist as a political party.”
But in 1924, enter an ambitious young black attorney from Ebenezer, named Perry Howard who would dominate the Mississippi Black-and-Tan Republican Party for the next 35 years.
Mississippi authors Jere Nash and Andy Taggart chronicled Howard’s leadership of the state’s GOP in their book “Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976-2008.” In that account, Nash and Taggart wrote: “Republicans in Mississippi during this time rarely fielded candidates for office, spending more time fight among themselves than in recruiting candidates for public office.”
So from the end of the Civil War forward, through Reconstruction and the early days of the civil rights era almost a century later, black voters have played a consistent and undeniable role in evolution of the Mississippi GOP.
The “big tent” Republicanism preached by in Mississippi by Ronald Reagan and later by one of his staffers, Haley Barbour, certainly wasn’t a novelty in the 2014 GOP Senate second primary.
Republicans, like Democrats in Mississippi, have over our state’s history engaged in more than our share of rough-and-tumble politics in which race and factional interests took center stage. Like it or not, the true history of the state’s GOP reflects that not a lot new happened in this hotly contested 2014 primary.
Somewhere, old Perry Howard must be shaking his head at the current fracas that grips Mississippi GOP.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.