Republican legislators say they drew the state’s new redistricting maps without considering race, a claim they hope will protect their latest exercise in extreme gerrymandering from being declared unconstitutional.
But two North Carolina history professors say it’s impossible to divorce race from Republican mapmaking because race is at the center of the Republican political agenda. Indeed, they argue that there’s little difference between the legislature’s current Republican majority and Democrats of the post-Civil War era who sought to restore and perpetuate the political dominance of powerful white North Carolinians.
“There is a tremendous amount of continuity in what is going on,” said Professor Robert Korstad of Duke.
James Leloudis, a history professor at the University of North Carolina, agrees. He has testified in recent years as an expert witness for plaintiffs challenging Republican laws that limited access to voting. He took the stand again last week in Raleigh to testify about the state’s political history in a case challenging the new redistricting maps as illegal because of extreme gerrymandering.
Because he’s involved in the trial, Leloudis declined to comment about the case or its historic context, but his opinions are clear from a book he wrote with Korstad based on their research into the history of race and voting rights in North Carolina. Published in September 2020, three months before President Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, the book bears a prescient title: “Fragile Democracy.”
Korstad and Leloudis do not contend that Republican lawmakers today are racist, but professors do say that the Republicans are carrying on a white supremacist practice of seeking to break the political power of alliances between Black voters and white progressives.
That was the aim more than a century ago when white supremacist Democrats used fear mongering about Black politicians’ ambitions – much of it circulated in Josephus Daniels’s News & Observer – to spur white populists to leave their alliance with a bi-racial Republican Party. After regaining power in the 1898 election – a vote followed by the white supremacists’ coup of a Black-led city government in Wilmington – Democrats instituted literacy tests for voting. Democrats used their legislative majority to advance an agenda that resembles the Republicans’ priorities of today: low taxes, less regulation and reduced investment in public education and social needs.