The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Klansman Hugo Black and his first Senate election

Picking up from my piece earlier today, a fascinating 2004 article by Samuel Webb reprinted [1] from the Alabama Review under the title Hugo Black, Bibb Graves, and the Ku Klux Klan: A Revisionist View of the 1926 Alabama Democratic Primary.

It's what I like about American political history: getting down among the details to overturn the conventional wisdom of generations.

Cliff Notes version: the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama in 1926, though powerful, was not omnipotent in directing the state's voters.

The test: Graves (running for governor) and Black were both the Klan's picked men. If the Klan was pulling the strings, you would expect that they would have worked like a ticket. In fact, analysis of voting stats provide evidence that only in 20 counties - out of 67 - did this happen.

There was a complex structure of political factions in the state at the time: the establishment was the Black Belt-Big Mule coalition: the planters of the Black Belt combined with the big business interests of the state (such as the Alabama Power Company). In 1926, the coalition split its support between James Mayfield and John Bankhead (who picked up the other AL Senate seat later) - this was the main thing that let Black in, apparently.

The reform element was split between anti-union and ex-Populist/pro-union factions; the latter's spiritual leader had been William Jennings Bryan. As well as Black, it boasted the exuberantly named Lycurgus Breckenridge Musgrove among its candidates for the Democratic nomination for US Senator.

Another peculiarity was the voting system:
Between 1918 and 1930, Democratic primary voters could choose their favorite candidate and, in a race involving three or more contenders, could opt to cast a second choice vote, thereby creating an additional statistical category in the historical record. This system avoided runoffs by awarding the nomination to the candidate with the most first- and second-choice votes, allowing candidates to win without a majority.

It all adds to the voting analysis fun!

The upshot was that both Black and Graves won the primary.

But, in 1930, the winning candidate for governor, Benjamin Meek Miller, ran on an anti-Klan platform, and did well in many counties in which the 1926 Klan pair had led the poll.

Black won re-election in 1932. The Klan angle? For another day...

  1. It's a sawn-off version, unfortunately; it has the footnotes but not the tables that went with the original piece. Damn!

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