White Primary

White Primary

A legal device once employed by some Southern states to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote in a meaningful way.

In the 1920s Southern states began using the white primary as a way of limiting the ability of African Americans to play a part in the political process. The white primary was an effective device because of the virtual one-party political system in the South that existed until the late 1960s. In all but a few areas nomination by the Democratic Party was tantamount to election, with Republicans often not bothering to run in the general elections.

In order to keep African Americans out of the political process, the Democratic party in many states adopted a rule excluding them from party membership. The state legislatures worked in concert with the party, closing the primaries to everyone except party members. The Supreme Court had ruled in 1921, in Newberry v. United States, 256 U.S. 232, 41 S. Ct. 469, 65 L. Ed. 913, that political parties were private organizations and not part of the government election apparatus. Therefore, by means of the white primary device, African Americans were disenfranchised without official State Action that would have triggered Judicial Review under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Beginning in the late 1920s the Supreme Court reviewed a series of cases involving the white primary. In Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U.S. 536, 47 S. Ct. 446, 71 L. Ed. 759 (1927), the Court ruled that the state could not formally endorse the white primary, but in Grovey v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45, 55 S. Ct. 622, 79 L. Ed. 1292 (1935), it upheld a Texas white primary that was based solely on a resolution adopted by the state Democratic party.

In United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 61 S. Ct. 1031, 85 L. Ed. 1368 (1941), the Court ruled that the federal government could regulate party primaries to prevent voter Fraud. In recognizing that primaries were part of a state's electoral scheme, it overruled the Newberry precedent and weakened the Grovey v. Townsend holding. Finally, in Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 64 S. Ct. 757, 88 L. Ed. 987 (1944), the Court overruled the Grovey decision and struck down the white primary as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment's prohibition against voting discrimination based on race.

Following Smith v. Allwright, Texas Democrats established a private association from which African Americans were excluded. The members of the association held "preprimary" elections to select candidates for the Democratic primaries. The Supreme Court declared in Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, 73 S. Ct. 809, 97 L. Ed. 1152 (1953), that the preprimary device was unconstitutional, as it made the primary and general elections "perfunctory ratifiers" of the decisions made during the preprimary process.


Civil Rights; Civil Rights Movement; Elections; Voting.

References in periodicals archive ?
Through the 105-mm refractor at 122x, the close pair is well split, showing a resplendent white primary with a 6th-magnitude, yellow-white companion 2.
Allwright, (31) which outlawed the Texas Democratic Party's white primary, Moore also organized the Progressive Voters League.
In addition to finding an overwhelmingly white primary electorate in the state, West Virginia exit polls revealed deep worry over the state of the economy.
They appear all black when swimming but they have white primary wing feathers, which can be seen in flight.
The result of an extraordinarily dedicated bit of journalism by the writer Shiv Malik to win the trust of Khan's family, it charted the journey of a boy known as Sid at his mainly white primary school who, as he grew up, would "quite often be round the back of the gym at breaktime smoking a fag with the rest of us".
The pilot scheme launched by the Isle of White Primary Care Trust will allow teenagers who approach the chemist for the morning after pill to also get a month's supply of the contraceptive pill.
Meanwhile, having undergone the bulk of its transformation by the end of the Reagan era, the Republican Party had by 2008 solidified into a conservative, almost exclusively white primary electorate.
In a telescope one should expect to see a white primary star with a blue to blue-green companion.
The VRA was a legislative response to legal questions precipitated by contests in the courts related to representational inequities, such as the southern literacy test and the white primary.
Allwright, (15) challenging the constitutionality of the white primary; in 1944, the Supreme Court declared the white primary unconstitutional.
Arguing that black disfranchisement would be a reform measure, Smith's victory over Atlanta Constitution editor Clark Howell in the 1906 white primary was also a victory for the race-baiting tactics of the Journal.