In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Blacks in American Electoral Politics

  • Introduction
  • African Americans and US Political Parties
  • African Americans and the Democratic Party
  • African Americans and the Republican Party
  • African Americans and Third Parties
  • African Americans in US Electoral Politics During Slavery, Reconstruction, and the Segregation Era
  • Black Elected Officials from the Civil Rights Era to the Present
  • Black Women in US Politics
  • African American Candidates for President
  • Black Voter Behavior

African American Studies Blacks in American Electoral Politics
by
Clarence Lusane
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0131

Introduction

African Americans have been engaged in US political campaigns and elections since the beginning of the nation despite numerous obstacles along the way. During the slavery era, only “free” Blacks in a few Northern states and even fewer in Southern states had the legal right to vote although they could be involved in campaigns. Despite some African Americans having fought on the side of the rebels in the Revolutionary War, as the US electoral system and US society evolved, slavery, racial discrimination, and prejudice were pervasive and made it difficult if not impossible for widespread formal participation by African Americans and other minority groups such as Native Americans. Millions of enslaved Blacks were excluded from any role in US elections or its political system. It would take Constitutional amendments (the 13th, 14th, 15th, 24th, and 26th), hard-won congressional action (Voting Rights Act of 1965), Supreme Court rulings (South Carolina v. Katzenbach, Evenwel v. Abbott, Smith v. Allwright, and United States v. Reese among others), massive protests, and a massive social movement of heartbreaking sacrifices, over many decades for African Americans to be included legally and substantially in US electoral politics. As Hanes Walton argues, Black politics has been a continuous collective effort at addressing the causes of Black exclusion, inequality, and marginalization, and winning policy and political remedies. Despite significant and revolutionary gains made in the political and electoral arenas, conservative and racially-driven efforts to pass or implement voter suppression policies and laws, such as felony disenfranchisement, voter ID laws, and congressional districts drawn to disempower African Americans, continue today.

African Americans and US Political Parties

Hamilton, et al. 2017 contends that the formation of political parties or “factions,” as articulated in The Federalist Papers, No. 10, was a development dreaded and feared by the nation’s founders and marked a turning point in the US political architecture. Built by and for wealthy, white men, political parties coalesced those of similar political, ideological, and racial views and rapidly defined the parameters of elections and the structure of the political system in the United States. Frymer 2010 demonstrates that by the mid-1800s, several parties dominated American politics and shaped the racial contours of the nation. Eventually, two major parties would emerge to hold dominance over US politics: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Walters 2003 argues that as with the rest of the nation, African Americans had little choice but to seek a political place in one or both of the major parties although both parties have rarely given priority to Black interests (Walters 2003).

  • Frymer, Paul. Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

    Frymer argues that the two-party system is rigged against African Americans (and other minorities) as both parties often focus on white swing voters. Contemporary Democrats assume they will win the Black vote and Republicans assume they will not so neither party feels compelled to spend quality time or energy addressing the policy priorities of the African American community.

  • Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. The Federalist Papers. Amazon Classics, 2017.

    DOI: 10.12987/9780300161045

    Hamilton, et al. wrote a series of newspaper articles and essays in 1787 and 1788 to explain and defend the newly drafted US Constitution.

  • Walters, Ronald. White Nationalism, Black Interests: Conservative Public Policy and the Black Community. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

    Walters argues that political conservativism is fundamentally in conflict with the long-term interests of racial equality sought by Black Americans.

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