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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

2 - A Unified Theory of African-American Representation in Congress


In 1992, Sanford Bishop (D-GA) made history. He became the first African-American congressman to represent a South Georgia congressional district. Georgia had sent African Americans to Congress before, but these elections occurred in districts in the Atlanta area. Bishop had achieved a more difficult victory: winning office in a rural district that is demographically more like Alabama than Atlanta. His 1992 election was a result of the drawing of a congressional district that was black-majority.

In 1996 and more than a decade before Barack Obama was elected president, Sanford Bishop (D-GA) made history yet again. He became the first African-American legislator elected to the U.S. Congress in Georgia in a predominately rural district in which whites were a majority. A coalition of white and African-American voters reelected Bishop to the U.S. House in a South Georgia district that includes former President Jimmy Carter's home town of Plains. In the same year, African-American Democrat Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) also garnered reelection in a white-majority district centered in suburban Atlanta. In 1995, the Supreme Court had ruled in Miller v. Johnson that Bishop's and McKinney's districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, causing them to run in newly created white-majority districts. The same pattern was evident across a number of states in the U.S. South, as black legislators forced to run in court-ordered white-majority districts surprisingly won reelection by building a biracial coalition of white and black voters.

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