50 Years After Freedom Summer, Report Shows that Communities of Color Can Shift the Balance of Power in Tennessee

Benjamin Todd Jealous

Benjamin Todd Jealous

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fifty years after Freedom Summer sparked a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, a new report released by the Center for American Progress examines how current demographic and political changes in heavily Black southern states could upset the balance of power in many of the country’s so-called ‘Black Belt’ states, including Tennessee.

The report analyzes 13 Black Belt states that are still defined by racial polarization: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In these Black Belt states (which each contain a Black population of at least 10%) voters of color continue to be locked out of statewide politics, and candidates of color rarely get elected to statewide office. However, as outlined in the report, a massive wave of voter registration could trigger a major shift in the country’s political landscape that would shake up the status quo and create a more inclusive Black Belt.

According to the analysis, registering just 30 percent of eligible unregistered black voters or other voters of color could shift the political calculus in a number of Black Belt states. Meanwhile, registering 60% of unregistered black, Hispanic, and Asian voters would upset the balance of power in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas in presidential or midterm election year. In a presidential election year, Alabama would be added to that list.

“Given the ongoing political and demographic changes in the Black Belt, large investments in voter registration could dramatically shift the balance of power and unleash democracy in states that have historically resisted it,” said Ben Jealous, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the report.

In Tennessee, state governor candidates have won the past three governor’s races with a net average margin of 80,628 votes. However, according to CAP’s analysis, there are an estimated 278,600 eligible unregistered Blacks living in the state. Registering 60% of these eligible voters would create 108,500 new Black voters, after accounting for turnout rates.