Twelve years after the ratification of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 [VRA], Richmond, Virginia elected a historic majority black city council. The 5-4 majority quickly appointed an African American lawyer named Henry Marsh, III to the mayoralty. Marsh, a nationally celebrated civil rights litigator, was not only the city’s first black mayor, but the council election of 1977 was also Richmond’s first since 1970. In 1972, a federal district court used the VRA’s preclearance clause in Section 5 to place a moratorium on council contests. This moratorium lasted until the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice determined whether Richmond’s 1970 annexation of portions of Chesterfield County had diluted the black electorate’s power by adding nearly 44,000 white suburban residents. While the high Court upheld the capital city’s boundary expansion, it demanded in return that Richmonders abandon at-large elections and implement an electoral system that allowed African Americans, who represented more than 50 percent of Richmond’s population prior to annexation, to vote within almost exclusively black districts. Districts immediately led to the election of Richmond’s majority-black city council. By the mid-1970s, these majority-minority districts demonstrated that national officials (liberals and conservatives alike) planned to defend the “equality of results” standard Johnson articulated at Howard University in 1965.

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Copyright © 2014 Donald Critchlow and Cambridge University Press. This article first appeared in Journal of Policy History 26, no. 4 (October 2014): 534-67.

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