(Photo: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi has seen its share of discouraging news lately when it comes to race relations, but now, things are looking up. Tuesday, Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree became the first Black major party nominee for governor in modern history.
"I'm just so proud of the fact that we had people who believed in us, believed in the message, believed in what we're trying to accomplish. I'm so proud that people took a hold of that," DuPree told the Associated Press after winning the Democratic primary runoff.
In a state that is nearly 40 percent Black and that boasts the most Black elected officials in the nation, Mississippi hasn’t seen a Black major-party candidate for governor since Reconstruction. A decade ago, DuPree’s victory in the Hattiesburg mayoral election made him the first Black mayor the city had ever seen.
DuPree will now face Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant in the Nov. 8 election and the race promises to be a challenge. Bryant is reported to have a substantial financial advantage and reportedly spent more than twice the combined spending of DuPree and his runoff opponent Bill Luckett.
"We're going to campaign regardless of whether we have a million dollars or half a million dollars," DuPree said, maintaining resolve to win the race.
Also, DuPree’s Republican opposition has already begun to rail against his potential candidacy.
Phil Cox, the executive director of the Republican Governors Association, said DuPree "supports policies that will hurt job creators" and said Bryant is "the only candidate voters can trust to build upon the progress Mississippi has made over the last eight years."
The runoff itself was not without controversy. The Justice Department stood watch to monitor polling place activities in 11 Mississippi counties to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group.
DuPree will not be the only African-American candidate in the race. Will Oatis, also African-American, is running as an independent following in the footsteps of Charles Evers, brother of slain civil-rights leaders Medgar Evers and State Sen. Henry Kirksey who both ran as independents in the 1970s.