On this day in history, December 28, 1971, the U.S. Justice Department sues Mississippi officials for ignoring the voting ballots of blacks in that state.
Charging that appellees, the State of Mississippi, the Election Commissioners, and six voting registrars of that State were destroying the right of Mississippi Negroes to vote, the United States brought this action for relief under 42 U.S.C. §1971(d) and other provisions.
The complaint alleged a longstanding, carefully executed plan to keep Negroes in Mississippi from voting. It stated that, in 1890, in order to restrict the Negro franchise, a new constitution was adopted, § 244 of which established as a voting prerequisite reading, understanding, or giving a reasonable interpretation of a section of the state constitution was required. This provision, when coupled with Negro ineligibility until about 1952 to vote in the decisive Democratic primary election, within nine years reduced the percentage of qualified voters who were Negroes from over 50% to about 9%, and, by 1954, only about 5% of Negroes of voting age were registered.
In 1954, § 244 was amended to make all of its previously alternative requirements apply and to make an applicant additionally demonstrate “a reasonable understanding of the duties and obligations of citizenship,” a requirement which registrars allegedly have applied in a racially discriminatory manner.
In 1960, two discriminatory voting statutes were adopted, one imposing a “good moral character” qualification, and the other, contrary to federal law, permitting destruction of some voting records. The following year, a “package” of legislation was enacted to further impede Negro voting registration. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, held that the Election Commissioners were not proper parties, that the registrars could not be sued jointly, and that venue was improper as to some.