When the Supreme Court last year struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, critics warned frantically that minority voting rights were in mortal peril. Congressman John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, said the court had “put a dagger in the heart” of what the civil rights movement had achieved. The ruling was “as lamentable as Plessy or Dred Scott,” wailed The Atlantic. From the hue and cry, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the court had pronounced Jim Crow-era literacy tests and poll taxes constitutional after all, and advised black voters to forget about ever flexing their electoral muscles again.
Well, don’t tell that to McDaniel. Cochran’s appeal to black voters may not have been honorable. It certainly wasn’t conservative. But it was indubitably effective: In the 24 Mississippi counties with black majorities, turnout soared by an average of 40 percent from the primary to the runoff. One of the most senior members of the state’s Republican establishment just won the fight of his career. What turned the tide was the exercise by black citizens of their right to vote — a right that is no longer endangered anywhere in America, not even in Mississippi.