Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version

December 2005


Published in International Journal of Africana Studies, Volume 11, Number 2 (Fall/Winter 2005), pp. 209-223. Copyright © 2005 The International Journal of Africana Studies. International Journal of Africana Studies (ISSN: 1056-8689) is published by the National Council for Black Studies. http://www.ncbsonline.org/international_journal


“Lord have mercy! We're going to have a black mayor in Jackson, in Jackson, Mississippi.” — An anonymous black woman quoted in Chappell (1997)

The above epigraph expresses the shock within the black community of Jackson, Mississippi, when Harvey Johnson was elected as the city's first African-American mayor in June, 1997. Surprisingly, four years earlier Johnson failed to win the Democratic nomination for the mayor's office. How did Johnson rebound from his earlier defeat in the 1993 Democratic mayoral primary election? In other words, how does one explain Johnson's historic victory—the first African-American mayor of Jackson, Mississippi—in light of his prior defeat in 1993?

This study argues that the role of the media proved crucial to Johnson's 1997 electoral fortunes by de-emphasizing race in its coverage of the election. Conversely, it is suggested that during the 1993 Democratic mayoral primary election, the print media racialized the campaign to the detriment of the electoral fortunes of Harvey Johnson. The study first provides a review of the literature and then offers a brief overview of the 1993 and 1997 mayoral elections. The following section subsequently identifies the data and methods utilized to answer three central research questions underpinning the study. Finally, the analysis concludes by addressing the implications of the major findings.