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What was the White Primary?

Mary Anthony Feb 29, 2020
Racial stereotypes were common during the 1890s. And certain political and legal policies that directly affected the civil rights of the African-Americans emerged to divide the society further. White Primary was a law that prevented the African-Americans from exercising ballot rights and allowed only the whites to vote in the Southern states.
This story defines the meaning and effects of White Primary.

Poll Tax!

Citizens had to pay a significant amount of fee to be able to get their names registered for voting, this stringent tax kept many hapless African-American voters away.
Way back in the 1920s, the Southern States had only one dominant party - the Democratic Party.
The primary aim of this party was to exclude the non-whites from voting through a legal law known as the 'white primaries' which meant that a large generation of African-American voices were deprived and omitted from being able to make any significant decisions about the government.
Thus making the white citizens "selectively inclusive" in the state's administration. Local governments also aided the situation by constructing a legal system of rules that proposed at re-establishing a high society based on white supremacy.

Definition of White Primary

White Primary was a legal ploy of the Democratic Party in the Southern states of the United States that allowed only the white Americans to vote during the primary elections to choose the party's nominees for public offices. This legal law disenfranchised the African- Americans from participating in the Democratic Party nominations.

Historic Background

After the Civil War (1861 to 1865) the Reconstruction of the United States was the primary focus of all the political parties. Slavery had been successfully abolished yet the Southern states wanted to exclude the African-Americans from their basic civil rights.
In the Northern states, the Republican Party dominated the political scene while in the Southern states, it was the Democratic party. Even though the rights of the African-Americans were improved by the thirteenth, fourteenth, and the fifteenth constitutional amendments their social enforcement proved exceedingly difficult.
During the presidential reconstruction of 1865 to 1867, Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of United States worked with lenient policies towards the Southern states. He pardoned most Southern whites and nominated tentative governors who outlined political steps for the creation of new state governments.
He advocated that the independent state governments could best decide on the political fate of the African-Americans. The political representatives of the North were infuriated that the Southern Confederate power would return. The Southern Black Codes caused a state of alarm among the Northern politicians as it established white supremacy.
After the Congressional elections of 1866, the hand of power turned towards the radical republicans, in a bid to punish the Southern states they passed the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, which divided the Southern states into five armed services districts and outlined how the new governments would be designed.
This act also allowed the African-American community with voting rights, enter political offices, and get appointed as legal judges and police chiefs. Thus leaving the Southern political scene infuriated.
The Southerners did not like the idea of the African community holding important political offices and there began the murderous reign of the Ku Klux Klan which witnessed whippings, murders, of the Southern blacks. More was to come through the legal system that silenced the African-American voters from government policies for a long time.

Meaning & Significance

The extend to politically marginalize the African-American communities began with the Democratic party excluding them from gaining party membership.
In 1921, The Supreme Court supported the Democratic political party on the use of the 'white primary' voting campaign thus disenfranchising the African-Americans without an official State Action which would have sparked off judicial review under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
Further in 1923, Texas enforced a law that exclusively blackballed African-American citizens from exercising their vote in Democratic primaries. The law stated :"Be it resolved that all white citizens who are qualified to vote shall be eligible to membership in the Democratic party."
A primary was basically an in-party election that was held to choose the nominees for the public office posts. Obviously, the Southerners didn't want people of color at higher posts hence they devised a political ploy of allowing only white people who paid the stringent poll fee to exercise their voting rights.
The unnecessary poll tax kept both the hapless African-American community as well as poor sections of the white community away from exercising their voting rights. The white primary gave a major blow to the Republican party as well that constituted mainly on the African-American voting bank, due to the discriminating laws.
The number of voters subsequently dwindled from the party list thus considerably eliminating the party from the political scene.

The End of White Primary

By 1940, there were a significant amount of cases pending in the Supreme court challenging this discriminatory voting law but the one legitimate case that proved as a turning point was that of Houston dentist Lonnie E. Smith.
Lonnie E. Smith, had been denied a ballot in spite of paying the poll tax during the 1940 Texas Democratic primary by S. E. Allwright, an election judge. Smith sued the Democratic party and with the help of NAACP's Thurgood Marshall and William Hastie landed the case in the Supreme Court.
Marshall debated that as a national of the city district who had paid his "poll tax," Smith had the right to vote during the Democratic Primary election. The Democrats argued that being an independent organization it could admit or debar anybody from voting.
Finally, in 1944, the Supreme Court ruled in Smith's favor and stated : "The right to vote in a primary for the nomination of candidates without discrimination by the State, like the right to vote in a general election, is a right secured by the Constitution." This was a primary win for thousands of African Amricans who were barred from the political scenario.
Through the significant victory of Smith's case, the African-American voters in Texas rose from 30,000 in 1940 to 100,000 in 1947. The white primary was totally outlawed not only in Texas but also the other Southern States thus ringing in a new era of equal voting rights among the nation's citizens.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The 1965 Voting Rights Act further amended equal legislative and political rights for the citizens thus bringing an end to the white supremacy.