Hampton Roads Community News

Franklin’s New Redistricting Gives Edge To City’s African American Majority

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

    For the first time in the city’s history,  the Franklin City

Council could have a 4-3 African American majority.

      City leaders adopted a redistricting plan based on the 2020 U.S. Census count  which noted that there were  5,000 African Americans and 3,000 whites in the city.

  The recent redistricting will allow Franklin  to join the Hampton Roads cities of Hampton,  Newport  News, and Portsmouth with majority Black councils due to their population shifts over the past 20 years.

    On May 9 members of the council city council voted to adopt a redistricting plan which will give African Americans a 4-2 majority on the council.

    The city council  had three redistricting map options and chose, by a vote of  5-2,  to adopt the proposed Franklin redistricting Map C, which created the  four majority-minority districts in the city.

Voting against the adoption were Ward 1 Councilman Mark R. Kitchen and Ward 2 Councilman Ray Smith.

Adoption of  Map C take Smith out of Ward 2. But according to Attorney Vivian Seay Giles, he can remain in the Ward 2 seat for the remainder of his current term, which does not end until Dec. 31, 2024.

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    By then the four majority Black districts will be in place if the Black voters choose an African American   to replace Robert “Bobby” Cutchins who is white and

 now represents Ward 6.

    Ward 6 will have a majority Black voting population, according to the new redistricting map.

During the April 25 City Council meeting the panel was unable to decide on its  redistricting plan.    The vote on Map C during that meeting resulted in a 3-3 tie, with Mayor Frank M. Rabil joining Kitchen and Smith in voting against it and Ward 6 Councilman and Vice Mayor Robert “Bobby” Cutchins abstaining.

Currently, there are three  African Americans on council—Greg McLemore, (Ward 3)  the longest serving; Linwood Johnson (Ward 4); and Wynndolyn H. Copeland (Ward 5)—and four white men.

    The  transition to an African American majority  will take place in  November when three of the seats  (3, 5, and 6 ) will be up for election on the ballot.

   The council’s choice did not arrive without some tension and drama.

   McLemore, who has  been the most outspoken and assertive of the Black council members during his 12-year-long tenure worked to steer the  panel toward this change.

He said  he had some unexpected help from the City Manager  and  the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission  (HRPDC) which prepared proposed redistricting plans A, B, and C.

Plans A  and B would have retained the redistricting lines contrived after the 2010 redistricting cycle which had  three majority Black districts.

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  According to  McLemore,  after the April 25 council impasse, Franklin City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt  consulted the HRPDC which drew up Map C featuring four majority-minority districts.

    Opponents of Map C on council and citizens  said it was an example of racial gerrymandering.

The City Attorney  indicated that Map C was indeed legal in nature.

    The minority Black districts will be in effect after the November elections when the Office of  Mayor and Wards 3, 5, and 6 will be on the ballot.

      According to numbers in redistricting Map C, Ward 6 which is now represented by Robert “Bobby” Cutchins will shift from a majority White District to an African American district.The district will be roughly 44% white  and 49%  African American.

        As in most cities, the council selects members of some of the most powerful board and commissions, including the School Board and Planning Commission.

    Several Black civic leaders  have already hinted at running for the seat this fall.

    At the end  of the Council meeting where the voting maps were approved, McLemore led a round of applause signifying the historic moment.

    But he and Black civic and political leaders are well of the low percentage of voting across the city – 20 percent.

Those numbers were later provided from the last May election.

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      ‘This is a great victory for the Black community and 

Franklin as a whole,” said McLemore. “But Black people must make the best of it, We[ve got to get out and vote and not sit on our hands.”

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