Majority-Minority Districts in the 117th Congress
See the states where racial minorities have the power to elect a representative of their choice.
By the Numbers
65 congressional districts are “majority-minority:” districts where racial minorities outnumber white residents. (That’s roughly 15% of all US House seats.)
14 states across the nation have at least one majority-Black district. (Six have more than one.)
More than 8.9 million African Americans live in a majority-Black district. (These districts account for about 22% of the country’s total Black population.
(NOTE: For Black History Month, I’m explicitly focusing on majority-Black districts. I plan on doing this type of review for all majority-minority districts later this year after redistricting is finalized nationwide.)
Black on Substack: Jemar Tisby
As I mentioned I’m lifting up awesome work by other Black creators on Substack. This is the final one for the week!
Footnotes by Jemar Tisby
An abbreviated description from Jemar: Saying what must be said about race, religion, and current events. If you’re interested in historical perspectives on Black Power, white supremacy and Christian nationalism, then Footnotes is for you. The goal is Black dignity through raising awareness and courageous action.
Jemar is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Mississippi. His newsletter is the perfect place to go if you never want Black History Month to end. If you like what you see, please show him some love and tell him Battleground sent you!
The Birth of Majority-Minority Districts
The history of majority-minority districts predates the Voting Rights Act and instead traces all the way back to the enfranchisement of African Americans with the passage of the 15th Amendment.
Following the passage of the 15th amendment, many congressional districts suddenly became majority-minority, particularly those in southern states where recently-freed slaves outnumbered white residents. Several Black men took the imitative to run for office in these districts in many were successful. Forty-one Black men served in Congress during the Reconstruction era and according to political historian David Lublin, not a single Black representative “won election from a district with a clear white majority during the 19th century.”
This helped underscore the need for legally mandated majority-minority districts. While many scholars have reckoned with the possible negative effects of majority-minority districts, (David Lublin included), throughout much of US history, these districts were absolutely necessary to give representation to racial minorities in Congress.
Minority “Opportunity” Districts
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 addressed this need by mandating “minority opportunity districts” to be drawn if a state has racially polarized voting patterns alongside geographically-centralized and compact racial communities. If a majority-minority district can easily be drawn, the state is mandated to do so. As a result the states with the highest percentages of Black residents (Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland and South Carolina) all have at least one majority-Black congressional district.
Do All Black Districts Have Black Representatives Today?
All majority-Black districts, except for two, are currently represented by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Michigan’s 13th congressional district, home to portions of Detroit and its heavily African American suburbs, is represented by Rashida Tlaib. Her predecessor, Rep. John Conyers, was the longest serving African American House representative in US history.
Tennessee’s 9th congressional district is the only majority-Black district represented by a white man. Rep. Steven Cohen has held the seat since 2007 and is known as the first Jewish person to represent Tennessee in Congress. Rep. Cohen has come a long way since first running for the seat in 1996. He lost badly in his first primary to Harold Ford Jr., a relatively inexperienced Black candidate that benefited from his father’s political legacy. At the time Cohen didn’t mince words:
“It is impossible for a person who is not African American to get a large vote in the African American community... against a substantial candidate. The fact is, I am white, and it doesn't seem to matter what you do.” -Rep. Steve Cohen
Rep. Cohen has since apologized for these words as he himself demonstrated the falsehoods of this train of thought when he won his first election in 2006.
What About Redistricting?
So far, it seems as though the vast majority of these districts were retained in the 2020 redistricting process. That being said, there are still several states that have yet to enact new congressional districts and a growing handful of enacted districts are facing litigation. Meanwhile, some are noting the lack of new majority-minority districts in the face of an increasingly diverse electorate.
Like I mentioned above, I’ll do another review of these districts later this year once the redistricting process is complete. That will allow us to see the full extent of any new majority-minority districts created or if any existing ones were effectively drawn out of existence.