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constituted a majority of the population in 97 counties. Of these counties, 75 had fewer than the State's average proportion of Negroes registered. Of the 31 Negro-majority counties in Mississippi, 27 were below the State's average of Negroes registered according to the unofficial statistics. All of the 14 Negro-majority counties in Alabama were below the State's average, according to the Birmingham News survey. But statistics cannot tell the crucial part of the story.

To get the authentic facts about the allegations that Negroes are being denied their right to vote, Congress wanted this Commission to conduct first-hand investigations and hearings based on sworn complaints. After August 14, 1958, when the first such complaint was received, the Commission proceeded to do just this.


After its 5-month wait, the Commission received its first sworn voting complaint, alleging "that through threats of bodily harm and losing of jobs, and other means, Negro residents of Gadsden County, Fla., are being deprived of their right to vote." 1

After the Commission promptly undertook a field investigation of this complaint, additional complaints began to come in from other States. Between August 1958 and August 1959, voting complaints were received involving 29 counties in eight States.2

The Commission unanimously decided upon full investigations of all these complaints. The situations disclosed by these investigations, by the public hearing in Alabama described in the next chapter and by the full preparations for a hearing in Louisiana described in the chapter after that, suggest some of the reasons why complaints were slow in coming to the Commission.

The same factors that discourage or prevent Negroes from registering to vote, including in some places the fear of bodily harm and loss of jobs, work against the filing of sworn complaints by those same Negroes. A few summary facts about the counties from which complaints did come will indicate that Negroes in these areas generally lack the economic and social status to be truly independent of community pressure.

It has been asserted that the "typical county in which Negroes are disfranchised is a rural county in the old plantation belt where large landholdings and farming are the major way of life, where there is little or no industry, farm tenancy is high, years of educational achievement low, and per capita income low. The percentage of Negroes in the population is high, 50 percent or more."

1 Commission Docket No. 58-22-V.

'The designated number of complaints were received from the following counties or parishes: Florida-Gadsden (9); Alabama-Barbour (1); Bullock (3); Dallas (19); Macon (47); Montgomery (29); Wilcox (2); Mississippi-Bolivar (3); Claiborne (5); Forrest (10); Jefferson Davis (13); Leflore (1); Sunflower (3); Tallahatchie (1); Louisiana-Bienville (8); Bossier (9); Caddo (8); Claiborne (7); De Soto (11); Iberia (6); Jackson (2); Ouachita (1); Red River (9); Webster (25); New York-Bronx (3); Tennessee Haywood (1); Oklahoma-Oklahoma County (3); North Carolina—(1). The most substantial of these complaints are discussed in the following chapters of this report. The North Carolina complaint is just now being processed. There were additional complaints from Clarke County, Miss., which are discussed below.

'Harold Fleming, "Negro Registration and Voting," a paper delivered as part of a symposium at Fisk University, and reproduced in "Human Relations and the Moral Challenge," 15th Annual Institute of Race Relations 27, 29 (1958).

For 15 of the first 25 southern counties from which complaints were received, including 5 of those involved in the Alabama hearing, that description is accurate. Statistical data concerning these counties will be found in the appendix of this report.

Complaints were received from only two counties whose percentage of nonwhite population was less than the statewide percentage.* In general, the median family income was generally lower than in the State as a whole. In all cases, income was conspicuously below the national median of $3,073 per year. The percentage of urban concentration was below the national average of 64 percent in all but four counties.5


In all but three of the counties the number of school years completed by persons aged 25 or over was at or below the national median of 9.3. Uniformly, the complaints came from counties in which the percentage of dwellings with more than 1.01 persons per room exceeded the national average of 15.7 percent. The minimum excess over the national average was in Forrest County, Miss. (18.6 percent). The maximum differential was found in Bolivar County, Miss., where 60.6 percent of dwellings fell within this rough measure of overcrowding.

Significantly, the largest number of complaints from any single county, 44, came from Macon County, Ala., where many Negroes have achieved greater independence because of a considerably higher level of education and income. The relatively few complaints from counties where Negroes constitute a majority but where none is registered may be some measure of the lack of independence as well as the apathy of the Negroes in those areas.

A report follows on the results of the main voting investigations conducted by the Commission and the pertinent facts collected in states other than Alabama and Louisiana (which are discussed in later chapters).


The first sworn complaint asserted that Negroes in Gadsden County, particularly Negro "ministers and teachers," had "deep fear" and that some of them had been "warned against voting." Gadsden County, in northern Florida on the Georgia border, is one of only five out of the State's 67 counties, in which, according to official 1958 State statistics, less than 5 percent of the voting age Negroes were

Jackson Parish, La. ; Forrest County, Miss.

Montgomery County, Ala.; Caddo Parish, La.; Ouachita Parish, La.; Forrest County,


• Montgomery County, Ala. (9.5); Forrest County, Miss. (9.9); Caddo Parish, La. (9.3). 7 Commission Docket No. 58-22-V.

registered. In the State at large, approximately 40 percent of Negroes over 21 were registered, and in 19 counties more than 50 percent of such Negroes were registered. Dade and Duval Counties, where Miami and Jacksonville are located, with about 50 percent of voting age Negroes registered, together accounted for nearly 50,000 of Florida's nearly 150,000 registered Negroes. But in three other rural counties near Gadsden-Lafayette, Liberty and Union-no Negroes were registered.

In Gadsden, according to the official figures, only 7 Negroes were registered in 1958, although 10,930 adult Negroes lived there in 1950.8 Official State statistics also show that a significant increase in Negro registrants occurred in Gadsden County from 1946 when the total was 32 to the years 1948 and 1950 when it rose to 137 and 140. Then in 1952 it dropped to 6, at which level it has remained with only slight fluctuations.

Field investigations revealed that the persons responsible for the registration drive in 1948-50 are no longer in Gadsden County. One of the leaders, who was fired from a good job and allegedly threatened with physical violence, left the State altogether.

The following additional information, based on staff interviews, can be reported."

There are about 300 Negro teachers in the county, many of whom have expressed a desire to vote, but virtually none of whom is registered. They are unwilling to attempt to register because of the fear of losing their jobs or other economic reprisals.10

Affidavits and other statements from Gadsden County residents cited instances of what they believed to be economic reprisal. One Negro minister was allegedly denied a $100 loan at a bank, despite the fact that he had a highly solvent cosigner. He had previously suggested from the pulpit that Negroes should register and vote.11

A teacher was denied renewal of a teaching contract in the county schools. The alleged reason was the teacher's liberal attitude generally toward voting rights and other constitutional matters discussed in a course in social studies.12

One elderly Negro who was interviewed said that he had registered about 3 years before but had decided not to vote. When asked

Bureau of the Census, Population Bulletin, P-B 10.

Names of individuals are withheld because almost without exception they demanded the assurance of anonymity as a condition precedent to talking with the interviewer. 19 Commission field notes.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

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