Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Moon Landrieu, January 10-11, 1974. Interview A-0089. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Growing importance of African American voters in New Orleans politics

Landrieu offers his interpretation of the important changes in New Orleans politics since World War II. Citing the administration of Mayor Chep Morrison from 1946 to 1961 as an especially progressive time in New Orleans politics, Landrieu stresses that the growing number of registered African American voters rendered the black vote an increasingly important factor. By 1970, when Landrieu was elected with ninety-five percent of that constituency's vote, the "race issue" had become a primary factor in the shaping of New Orleans politics.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Moon Landrieu, January 10-11, 1974. Interview A-0089. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

The first question that I would like to ask is about the changes in New Orleans politics since 1948 and especially in the sense that New Orleans at least had a reputation at the beginning of that period of probably being, more than any other southern city, as a city of machine politics. I don't mean that necessarily as a majority phrase. To what extent has there been change in New Orleans and what has taken place? What is the situation insofar as the kind of New Orleans politics and how it operates?
I don't know if I am really competent to comment on the period prior to 1960, which was the date that I became actively engaged in politics. In any event, with that disclaimer I would then go back, you see, I don't think you can quite measure it from '48, you may be able to do so. But you have to put it in the perspective of what New Orleans was before 1946, which was sort of a turning point for this city. Prior to 1946, there was a very strong tie between the city administration and the state administration. They had sort of dominated the state-city politics. Then, in 1946, Chep Morrison, a 36 year old reform Governon returning war Colonel, ran for Mayor and was elected which began 16 years of what you might say was progressive government. I don't mean reform in the sense of . . . in the general sense that it is usually accepted. But nonetheless he was a bright, intelligent, aggressive, good politician. I think it was about that time that the racial attitudes began to change a little bit. I don't suggest that it was anywhere approaching equality, but I think that a definite shift began to take place. It was at that point too, I think, roughly about 1948, if my memory serves correctly, and I was quite young at the time, that blacks began to get registered in any numbers at all in the City of New Orleans. Prior to that time, while they always had significant numbers of blacks living in the city, there were very few registered to vote in the City of New Orleans. As that registration began to build, they became, if not a significant force, they nonetheless became a voting group that certainly had exended. So the politics from a racial standpoint became more liberal. Morrison in 1948 also, while he was a progressive reform-minded mayor, nonetheless, was an excellent politician. He believed very strongly in the Ward-Precinct system which he had come up through. Not because he came up as a member of that system, but nonetheless he had watched it work and he believed in it. He aligned himself with incumbent office holders; ward leaders traditionally had department head jobs, Clerks of Court, some of the Parochial Officers. He had an organization known as the CCDA He actively participated in every election, with candidates across the board, that kind of machine politics. I would say that that system lasted until Mascero came into office. The first big change, I think, really came in 1962, when Eddie Duponche who is now a state senator, and was at that time a state senator, ran for Mayor. I ran on that ticket also as a Councilman at large. We lost the election in the run-off with the racial issue being the predominant issue. Heretofore you have to bear in mind that although race had been raised as an issue, Morrison had won four straight elections with people saying, that were advocates for the blacks. But he hadn't gotten elected on the black vote. Chep first got elected when there were virtually no black votes in the city. He got elected by white votes and the black registration began to build up and because he was moderate on the subject in terms of those days, in terms of perspective of that era. The black vote always was with Chep Morrison. So, he was the incumbent and that is the way it lasted for sixteen years. Two years . . . a year prior to the end of his terms, which would have been the fifteenth year of this administration he became Ambassador for the American States and the City Council then had to select the Mayor from one of the two Councilmen at large and they selected Vick Scuro, and he had to run the following year. But he was running then as an incumbent not having been elected now. When Adrian and I ran, Vick Scuro was one of the principal opponents and we got to the second primary with him and we had gotten all of the black vote or at least a significant portion of the black vote, and he proceeded to say, you know, "Go against the old southern block voting." That issue was raised in that campaign and we lost. So, we went through the next eight years of the Scuro administration. It was sort of a conservative regime. Then I ran and won with maybe 95% of the black vote.
This was what year?
This was 1970. I won, and politics then changed very radically in this city. Because for the first time a candidate openly solicited, met with, discussed black votes in an openly, publicly, televised and a dramatic change in the political forces in the city. I think it became evident that no one would ever win an election in this city again based on race, and of course, I just ran for re-election again and was elected. There really wasn't a great deal of opposition. I don't mean that to be sounding self-serving, but it is just the way the political thing developed, no major candidates qualified. I had three opponents, but they really didn't make any great effort at it and weren't terribly serious candidates.
Was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a significant factor in this change? Did that result in a considerable increase in stimulating the black vote and black recognition?
My recollection is that it did, but not as significant as many people thought. As I recall we had about 35,000 registered voters, registered black voters out of maybe 210,000 in 1962. But black registration was increasing all the time. I think there are about 80,000 now. While a sizeable portion of that increase could be attributable to the Voting Rights Act, I think much of it is also attributed to the changing state administration. The state administration got more liberal; therefore, the registered voters became more liberal and they weren't discouraging blacks from registering. As we got more liberal politicians in office, those who were enjoying a certain rapport with the black community and support, there wasn't what had been before, a most unified effort to prevent blacks from voting and from registering. But I would have to say that it accounted, the Voting Rights Act accounted for a significant change.