Voting and Elections- The All-White Primary

Feb 15, 2016

Seventy years ago, in a 1944 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Smith v. Allwright, the use of all-white party primary elections was outlawed. Such elections had proved a formidable barrier to African American voters in Arkansas. Since the Arkansas Democratic Party had firmly established control over most elected offices by the beginning of the twentieth century, it was their party primaries, rather than the general election, which mattered the most. Democrats often ran uncontested in general elections. By claiming that party primaries were private rather than public elections, Democrats excluded African Americans from participating in them. The Smith decision changed that in a ruling that applied nationwide. African Americans began voting in Democratic Party primaries, and under Governor Sid McMath’s leadership, in 1950 they were accepted as Arkansas Democratic Party members for the first time. I’m John Kirk of the UALR History Department, and this has been an Arkansas moment.