By the Rev. Dr. William Barber II
The North Carolina NAACP has intervened against a mysterious lawsuit that tries to disenfranchise Black voters. Here is my statement at a press conference in Raleigh on January 15, 2008.
In 1898, the enemies of Black-White fusion in Wilmington shot down scores of Black people in cold blood, exiled at least 50 Black and White fusionist leaders and destroyed Alex Manly’s (the son of a former Governor and one of his slaves) newspaper which had supported the fusion movement.
It has taken us more than 100 years to identify and expose those forces. Now a new group of mysterious forces are trying to use our courts to prevent a new kind of fusion politics.
This group has filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina House and Senate Districts that include 40-50% Black citizens of voting age which cross county lines—Districts that have chosen Representatives who are responsive to the interests of the Black community and to its white voting allies.
We will not allow this to happen without a fight. The Federal Court recently allowed the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP to intervene against the mysterious group, represented by Robert Hunter, a well-known conservative activist. We have not been able to ascertain Mr. Hunter’s financial backing for the lawsuit as of yet.
It is fitting that we announce our efforts on Dr. King’s birthday. As anyone who knows anything about Black History, Dr. King and hundreds of Freedom Fighters helped thousands of courageous Black people in the South expose the blatant disenfranchisement that had existed since the 1898 in North Carolina and across the South. It was these efforts that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Today, in honor of Dr. King, we announce this time around, we will not allow our hard-won seat at the table of government to be pulled out from under us. Old tricks come in new bags. But we are not fooled. We will expose the aims of the mysterious plaintiffs in this lawsuit to the light of day in the Courthouse, in the voting booths, and in any other way we can get the public’s attention.
These plaintiffs are asking the Court to halt the 2008 elections, based on an absurd theory that a census correction involving 3,000 people several years ago threw off the entire state legislative districting map. In fact, more than 800,000 people have moved into the North Carolina since the 2000 census was taken. No Court in its right mind would buy this argument. And these mysterious plaintiffs want the Court to rule that there are no protections for the interests of the Black voters in Districts that have one Black person of voting age less than 50%--directly disenfranchising the sophisticated and anti-racist voting alliances in many of our legislative districts.
Today, we release the letter we wrote to Dr. Alma Adams, Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus in the N.C. Legislature, listing 19 House and Senate Districts which are filled by Representatives and Senators who were the choice of the Black voters in those Districts. These are most of the Districts targeted by the plaintiffs.
The N.C. NAACP has retained Ms. Anita Earls and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to represent our interests, along with the National NAACP. It is obvious that, if the plaintiffs can successfully get away with this trick in North Carolina, they will try it in other southern states—thereby undermining the letter and spirit of the Voting Rights Act the NAACP was able to get extended just last year. Ms. Earls was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in the 1990’s, and helped lead its Voting Rights Section. She has already begun putting together a team to help provide strong legal representation.
The people funding this lawsuit argue that only legislative districts with over 50% Black voting age population are protected by the Voting Rights Act. We believe there are thousands of white people of good will in this State who vote for Black candidates and who want to see the structures of racism dismantled. Districts with 40-50% Black people in them have elected strong Black and anti-racism representatives, with the support of thousands of forward thinking white people. Some have elected strong anti-racism white leaders. Our Memorandum of Law to the Court said,
“In the early days of Voting Rights Act enforcement, it was generally thought that a district must be 65% black in population to provide black voters the opportunity to elect their candidate of choice. Over time, that figure has dropped significantly. Currently, African-American voters elect candidates of their choice to the North Carolina General Assembly in districts that generally range from 43% to 56% black in voting age population. In each of these districts, African-American voters constitute a majority of the voters registered as Democrats.
The obvious aim of the mysterious group that has filed this lawsuit is to try to get a decision out of the Court that will require a new round of re-districting based on the Black-Pack theory. This backward theory packs Black voters into ghetto Districts, consisting of 70-90% Black voters, leaving the surrounding Districts and counties 60-80% White so that backward-thinking candidates can prevail in them for some time.