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Most know that the post‑Civil War Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed citizens of all races, or at least male citizens of all races, the right to vote. But notwithstanding the keen interest today in voting rights and alleged voter suppression and that well-known Fifteenth Amendment, few know that for decades African Americans were banned outright from voting in primary elections that determined state and local leaders in many Southern states. In the post‑Reconstruction South, the Democratic Party controlled every facet of state politics and government. The Party’s whites‑only primary elections ineluctably determined the outcome of general elections. The party did not allow Blacks to vote in its primary elections.

This article explains how Supreme Court decisions opened the door for Southern states to craft laws and practices that, among other things, disenfranchised Blacks. In Georgia, that began to unravel in 1945 when Middle District of Georgia Judge T. Hoyt Davis ruled that the white primary was unconstitutional. Although Judge Davis’s decision is rightly heralded as “the second emancipation,” the abolition of the white primary in Georgia led to the violently racist 1946 gubernatorial campaign. Although newly enfranchised Blacks and progressive Democrats delivered a popular vote victory for James Carmichael, Georgia’s “county unit” vote elected arch-segregationist and former governor Eugene Talmadge. Still, Judge Davis’s decision was one of the early steps in the modern Civil Rights Movement.