Race And Elections

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(Memphis) Community organizations gathered across Tennessee on the first day of early voting as a reminder the privilege didn't come easy, especially for women and African-Americans.

"We dress in black today in memory of all those many lives lost across many racial lines, across many cultures," Vanecia Kimbrow, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

In Memphis, race is still a huge factor in the political process.

"In some of our polls we're getting some very acerbic harsh racially overtone comments mostly by whites against not just blacks but transferred to Democrats," said Berge Yacoubian.

Yacoubian's marketing research firm conducted a survey for the Unified School District's Transitional Planning Committee.

It also studied what would happen if the suburbs started their own districts.

"There are some very strong racial overtones there. The racial make up of the municipal schools, if left to their own, would probably go right back before desegregation," he said,

When questioned, municipal mayors didn't see it that way, but the firm's research shows otherwise.

Yacoubian said, "For about 25 to 30 years after Dr. King's death we made some real progress in racial cooperation. I fear that we have been regressing on that over the last decade or so."

The racial make-up of Memphis City Schools is currently 87% African American but has not been deemed as segregated.

He suggests a unified district might bring blacks and whites, Democrats and Republicans together, but first he says it must be given the chance to work.

A federal judge is still deciding if the municipal school elections are legal even though an election was held approving them earlier this year and voting started today for future school board members.

There is no time frame for him to give his decision.

Yacoubian's research shows 95% of Shelby County Republicans are White, 5% are African-American.

He says 75% of county Democrats are African-American, 25% are White or Other.