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First Black Republican Elected To Mississippi House Since Reconstruction

Rodney Hall sitting by a flag with the seal of Missisisppi
After winning the GOP primary for Mississippi House District 20 on Tuesday, Aug. 8, Rodney Hall will become the first Black Republican in the Mississippi Legislature since the end of Reconstruction in the 1890s. He was set to be the lone candidate on the ballot for the Nov. 7, 2023, general election. Photo courtesy Rodney Hall campaign

A Black Republican will sit in the Mississippi House when the Legislature reconvenes next January for the first time in 130 years after voters in Tuesday’s GOP primary selected Rodney Hall to represent House District 20.

Because no Democrats, third-party candidates or independents filed to run for the seat, he will automatically win the Nov. 7 general election as the lone candidate on the ballot. House District 20 is an 81% white district located in DeSoto County in northwest Mississippi. Hall defeated opponent Charlie Hoots, who is white, by a 55%-45% vote.

“To all the voters who believed in our vision and cast their ballots, you have my deepest gratitude,” Hall said in a statement after his victory in Tuesday’s primaries. “I want to extend a kind word to my opponent. Running for office is never an easy task, and I appreciate their dedication to our community.”

Hoots was less gracious in defeat. “See Elections can be bought. Especially when you don’t go vote,” he wrote in a Facebook post after his loss.

Rodney Hall will join nearly 50 other Black lawmakers in the Mississippi Legislature, all of whom are Democrats except House Rep. Angela Cockerham, who is an independent.

An attorney who served as a U.S. Army lieutenant in Afghanistan, Hall says on his website that he turned down a position in the Trump administration to deploy to Syria. He has served as a legislative director for Republican U.S. House Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., who represents the state’s 1st Congressional District.

“During Rodney’s tenure, he helped defeat Red Flag Gun Laws, draft requirements for our daughters, and the vaccine mandate for our service members,” his page says. “Rodney also helped countless constituents and communities with projects that increased workforce development, first responders, and disaster mitigation efforts.”

No Black Representation For Seven Decades

During Reconstruction in the years after the Civil War, Black residents gained the right to vote and elected dozens of Black leaders to various political positions, including the Mississippi House and Senate. At the time, most Black Mississippians voted Republican. But after Reconstruction ended, Mississippi’s white Democratic leaders forged the infamous “Mississippi Plan” and adopted a Jim Crow Constitution in 1890 that stripped Black men of the right to vote.

“Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n–ger from politics,” James K. Vardaman, one of the 1890 constitution’s drafters, explained. By 1894, the same year the State adopted a Confederate-themed 1894 state flag, Mississippi was down to its last two Black state lawmakers.

White supremacist terror, segregation and finally mass resistance to federal desegregation orders led by white Democrats reigned in the State over the next seven decades as white lawmakers exclusively ran the Legislature. Then Democrat Robert G. Clark Jr. of Holmes County won his historic election to the Mississippi House in 1967, just two years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 restored suffrage to Black Mississippians. The state would elect its first Black state senator, Arthur James Tate, in 1979; Rep. Alyce G. Clarke became the first Black woman elected to either chamber in 1985.

A man at a podium, waving with both hands in the air
Mississippi House Rep. Robert G. Clark became the first Black lawmaker to serve in the Legislature since Reconstruction when he won his 1967 election. Seen here while being honored on the 50th anniversary of his election in 2017, served as House Speaker Pro Tem before leaving the Legislature in 2004. File photo by Imani Khayyam / JFP

By that time, the parties had already begun to switch in the South. After Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Republicans ran Barry Goldwater, who opposed the law, for president. Though he lost most of the country, Goldwater won the South. In 1968, Republican Richard Nixon ran a campaign for president that leaned heavily into dog whistles directed at white voters in the South with racially coded messages about crime and drugs.

Other Republicans like Ronald Reagan would follow the same template, known as the Southern Strategy. In 1980, he gave his well-known “state’s rights” speech at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, not far from where white supremacists had murdered three civil rights workers in 1964. With most of the old segregationist Democrats gone, Mississippi elected its first Republican governor in 1991 with Kirk Fordice, who had ties to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens—a successor of the segregationist Citizens Council that segregationist Democrats in the state once courted. Mississippi has only elected a Democratic governor in one election since, with Ronnie Musgrove in 1999.

‘It’s About All of Us’

Most Democrats in the Mississippi Legislature are now Black and most Republicans are white. Though a higher percentage of Mississippi’s population is Black than any other at 38%, the State still has not sent a Black official to any statewide-elected office—such as governor, lieutenant governor or U.S. Senator—since the end of Reconstruction.

White Republicans hold all eight statewide offices, both U.S. Senate seats and three of Mississippi’s four congressional districts. Several Black candidates have come close to winning a statewide election, such as Democrat Mike Espy, who won 46% of the vote when he ran against Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in a 2018 special election.

Rodney Hall sitting by a flag with the seal of Missisisppi
“As we look to the future, know that this victory is not just about one person; it’s about all of us,” Republican Rodney Hall said after winning the Mississippi House District 20 GOP primary on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Photo courtesy Rodney Hall campaign

In his statement after his victory on Tuesday, Rodney Hall said he is “committed to seeing every corner of our beloved Desoto County and our great state prosper.”

“As we look to the future, know that this victory is not just about one person; it’s about all of us. It’s about Desoto County thriving, Mississippi flourishing, and our shared values leading the way,” the incoming Black Republican lawmaker said.

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