Black, Republican, female elected mayor
June 17, 2001
A hen's tooth. A four-leaf clover. A penitent mosquito… Add to that list of things hard to find in Mississippi a black female Republican mayor.
Stumped? Mississippi Republican Party chairman Jim Herring isn't. But he is a little miffed.
The Bold New City's Harvey "Election Man" Johnson, Hattiesburg's Ed Morgan, Oxford's Richard Howorth and Biloxi's A.J. Holloway got all the headlines last Tuesday during the state's municipal general elections.
But Herring said the state's media blew it last week in coverage of municipal elections. In the case of the new mayor-elect of the town of Tchula (population 2,332 and two old grouches) in Holmes County, Herring may have a valid point.
Yvonne Brown is the mayor-elect of Tchula. Herring points out with no small measure of pride that Brown is also the first African-American woman ever elected mayor as a Republican in Mississippi history.
The person, not the party
So, how does a black woman win under the Republican label in a town with a 96 percent black population?
Brown, the wife of former GOP 2nd District congressional candidate and Grace Community Church pastor Robert C. Brown, defeated incumbent Democratic Tchula Alderman Willie Mae McLaurin by a margin of 417-307. The seat became vacant when incumbent Tchula Mayor Frances Wilkes chose not to seek reelection. McLaurin is also an African American.
Herring dealt with his own crisis of conscience on party labels back in the early 1980s when he converted from a lifelong affiliation with the Democratic Party to active membership in the GOP.
After failed bids for lieutenant governor in 1975 and governor in 1979, Herring said last week that the Democratic Party at that time "simply was no longer attuned to my thinking."
Herring returned to Madison County and labored in the vineyards of local, state and national GOP politics until making a bid as the Republican nominee for attorney general in 1987 against current Attorney General Mike Moore. Moore won that race with over 60 percent of the vote.
But Herring emerged as a senior statesman in the GOP and was named to the State Court of Appeals by then-Gov. Kirk Fordice in 1997 serving there until 1999.
Asked about the surprising win by Yvonne Brown in Tchula, Herring said: "The doors to our church' are open. As more and more Mississippians move into the mainstream, growing numbers of African Americans are embracing Republican ideas and ideals.
Can the GOP be successful at the local level in Mississippi politics?
The county courthouses across the state remain a bastion of Democratic Party support. But Herring counters by pointing out that six of the state's 10 largest cities are led by Republican mayors, three by Democrats and one Vicksburg by an independent.
Herring sees Brown as evidence that the state GOP is making serious inroads into local level politics in Mississippi. Brown sees blacks voters who embraced her and the GOP label.
For both, it's a start.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor and
political columnist for The Clarion-Ledger. Write him at 201 Dogwood Drive, Forest, MS 39074, e-mail him at email@example.com, or call 601-961-7000.