During the 1960s, civil rights attorney Louis Stokes argued in front of the Supreme Court that Cleveland’s congressional districts unfairly divided its Black population to dilute its power and won.
The nation’s highest court subsequently established the principle of “one person, one vote” and led to the creation of the only congressional district in Ohio that is minority majority, which Stokes went on to represent for 15 terms. Now, that district, currently the 11th Congressional District, is at risk of being eliminated due to redistricting.
Since the Supreme Court ruling, Ohio has lost congressional seats every census due to its population decline. Later this year, when the state redraws its congressional maps to divide it among 15 districts, it will likely lose its only African American majority-represented seat.
Back when the district was originally configured, the Black population accounted for 65 percent of its population, encompassing Cleveland’s East Side and its nearby suburbs. Three decades later, statistics in the Almanac of American Politics relays that the Black population makes up only 58 percent of the district. In 2008, that number became 55.5 percent.
The current district, which has expanded to include Akron’s African American population after the 2010 census, proved it could not remain majority minority if it was solely confined to Cuyahoga County, is now less than 53 percent Black, according to census statistics.
Cleveland.com reports it will be several months before the Census Bureau gives Ohio map makers the local-level population data they need to configure the new districts, but congressional map-drawing processes require that Ohio voters approved in 2018 would return the district entirely to Cuyahoga County, which is currently 30.5 percent Black.
Cleveland, which is 48.8 percent black, will thus no longer be split among multiple districts. This means white neighborhoods on Cleveland’s West Side will likely be drawn into the historically Black district instead of the Akron neighborhoods that were added a decade ago to boost its minority ratio.
While the redistricting may eliminate a majority minority district, the area will likely be represented by African Americans for the foreseeable future. Local politicians and redistricting experts point to a Columbus congressional district that is around 35 percent African American, but is represented by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty.
Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio told Cleveland.com that majority minority districts should continue to exist in the state, but Black population changes in Northeastern Ohio may mean that is not possible. But it could become an “opportunity district,” which has at least a 50 percent minority voting age population.
“People all over Ohio need to be putting pressure on the map makers as we go through this process to make sure that we have fair districts,” Turcer said. “That includes making sure there are opportunity districts for African Americans.”
Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images