From Politics to Protest: African American Voting in Virginia in the Pre-Civil Rights Movement Era, 1940-1954

Kimberley S. Johnson

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    This article uses a political developmental approach to examine African American poll-tax registration and voting in Virginia from 1940 to 1954. Using the concept of multiple orders, the article traces how changes in the state's political system of managed race relations created an opening for African American political mobilization. The Virginia Voters League (VVL), in alliance with other African American political, civic, and social organizations, conducted voter education and poll-tax payment campaigns in order foster political efficacy among the state's disenfranchised black voters. The VVL met with mixed success, affected by past political mobilizations, the impact of NAACP mobilization, and local and statewide political competition between the state's main political machine and insurgents. The VVL campaign was successful in achieving short-term victories, including the election of a few African Americans to local office. By 1954, the VVL's internal weakness coupled with the emergence of massive resistance stymied further black electoral mobilization through politics and made protest a more viable option for achieving political and civil rights for black Virginians. By tracing the path from politics to protest, this article shows how a political developmental approach can be successfully used to develop a nuanced understanding of the emergence of the civil rights movement and Southern politics in the pre-Brown v. Board of Education era.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)218-237
    Number of pages20
    JournalStudies in American Political Development
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Oct 1 2017

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History
    • Sociology and Political Science


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