Leake County citizens group demands role in drawing new voter district lines

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Members of the predominantly Black Concerned Citizens of Leake County claim their community was shortchanged in the 2010 redistricting and are calling for a different outcome in the post-2020 voter mapping of the county. 

Following the redistricting of 2010, Leake County witnessed the closure of select schools in the Black community, the decline in accreditation of all but one of the schools that had once been seen as good, competitive institutions, and the dilution of voter strength in the two heavily Black districts of the county. The concerned citizens of the impacted communities attribute this decline to the lack of local participation in the 2010 redistricting and insist on having a seat at the table in the current remapping of voter districts for their county and local communities.

Doris Henson, chair of the Community Outreach Services of Leake County, a spinoff of the Concerned Citizens of Leake County, says her organization is challenging the redistricting maps drawn up by the official body, the East Central Planning and Development Committee of Leake County. 

“The board of supervisors gave them the task of redrawing the 2020 map, just as they did in 2010,” Henson said. “We are challenging them to come together with the community and see what we, as representative voices of the community, would like for the new map to look like, and what we feel would be a fair map. We want them to sit at the table with us and adopt the map that represents the will of the community.”

Following the 2010 remapping, Henson said, the two majority Black districts, Districts 4 and 5, were split up in four ways. District 4, which had been the epicenter of the earlier Civil Rights Movement, had a large segment of its population moved to District 5, another heavily Black district adjacent to the town of Walnut Grove – the location of the notorious prison that the federal government condemned for its inhumane conditions in 2016.  The prison reopened in October 2021, but has remained in a low-key, redevelopment mode since.

Henson lives in District 5 but says she’s troubled by the actions taken to shift voters from District 4 over to her district.

“Based on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Justice Department defines Galilee as a Community of Interest,” Henson says. “That means that they should not have their voting power diluted or reduced in any way.

“But what the redistricting committee is doing is taking a community, basically a Black, Democratic community, and flipping them over into a predominantly white, Republican community where their votes won’t count for anything. They’ve done that on both sides of the county and some of the supervisors who should know better say that it’ll work out for the best.”

Leake County has a population of 22,776, according to the 2020 Census – 51.2 percent white; 41.9 percent Black; and 5.6 percent Native American.

The Galilee-Harmony community is where local Civil Rights icon Winson Hudson led the successful fight to break through the walls of segregation in Leake County.

“That is the epicenter for the Civil Rights Movement and where Winson Hudson lived,” Henson said. And she was the one who led the fight for quality education for Leake County and the entire state of Mississippi.

“But now they’ve taken the road where she and her neighbors lived and moved them out of the district.  What we’re seeing here is a smooth, strategic way of disenfranchising a community of Black folk. And if you look hard enough, you’ll see they’re setting themselves up to always be in control of how the votes fall.” 

The impact of the Black vote in Leake County will suffer if the district lines proposed by the county committee are put in place without a fair amount of inputs from the representative community, Henson said.

“We’re planning to have our report finalized before the end of February,” she said. “We’re working on it now. We will have another conversation with the people from the various communities, maybe a zoom call or an in-person meeting. But we want to make sure that we leave no voices unheard before we sit down and begin redrawing these lines.”

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Leake County citizens group demands role in drawing new voter district lines

By Earnest McBride
January 18, 2022