The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC) was created in 1975 to enable Black legislators to form strategies for dealing with specific legislative issues, to develop an agenda, and to create an outreach program for their constituency.
Between 1868 and 1907, fifty-eight Black legislators served in the Georgia General Assembly. The next Black elected to the legislature after 1907 was Senator Leroy Johnson in 1962. The Supreme Court, in Gray v. Sanders (1963), eliminated the county unit system and required that Georgia follow the one-man, one-vote principle. The passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 resulted in significant Black voter registration, and in 1965 and 1966, after redistricting, eight African Americans were elected to the Georgia House of Representatives: six from Atlanta (William Alexander, Julian Bond, Benjamin Brown, J. C. Daugherty, J. D. Grier, and Grace Towns Hamilton) and one each from Columbus (Albert Thompson) and Augusta (Richard Dent). Black members met periodically to discuss issues and strategies.
In the 1980s and 1990s Black legislators gained several historic firsts, including Calvin Smyre’s appointment by Governor Joe Frank Harris as assistant floor leader in 1983 and floor leader in 1986, Gene Walker’s election in 1989 as senate majority whip, and Bob Holmes’s appointment in 1990 to the house budget subcommittee. In 1991 Governor Zell Miller appointed as commissioner of labor Al Scott, the first African American to hold a statewide constitutional office in the twentieth century.
Organization and Legislative Results
In 1972 fourteen Blacks were elected to the house and only two to the senate. Senator Johnson convened these Black legislators periodically to discuss such issues as a new Atlanta city charter and the seating of Julian Bond, whom white legislators opposed because of his criticism of the Vietnam War (1964-73). In 1975 the GLBC was formally organized after Representative Brown convened the Black members and appointed a bylaws committee. Representative Holmes, a political science professor at Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University), drafted the GLBC bylaws. Eight committees were appointed, including an outreach committee to hold public hearings, workshops, and seminars to share information with Black Georgians.
A fund-raising committee was formed in 1983, and a state advisory board was created to plan a GLBC weekend that included seminars and a fund-raising banquet. During the 1980s the GLBC began adopting an annual agenda, which included the appointment of more Black judges, hiring of more Black state employees in management positions, creation of an Office of Fair Employment Practice, increasing of aid to families with dependent children, creation of a Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday, allocation of more resources for the three state Black colleges and the Morehouse School of Medicine, awarding of more state contracts for minority businesses, and implementation of a state minority business enterprise program.
Despite the growing number of Black legislators and the appointment of African Americans to key committees and two chairs, several GLBC members expressed disappointment at the lack of success in the caucus’s first decade of existence. Governor Harris, whom caucus members backed almost unanimously in his 1980 gubernatorial election campaign, supported several caucus programs. The GLBC also helped Lieutenant Governor Zell Miller, in 1990 and 1994, and Representative Roy Barnes, in 1998, in their gubernatorial campaigns. While Miller was somewhat unresponsive to the caucus agenda, Barnes was much more amenable to pushing their legislative priorities. History shows that having a close ally in the governor’s office has been crucial to the success of the caucus in recent years.
The GLBC’s ambitious 2002 agenda included opposition to predatory lending, support of gas deregulation reform, insurance coverage for colorectal cancer, additional resources for child protective services, election law reform, fair redistricting/reapportionment, education reform, and greater resource allocations to caucus priorities. Governor Barnes’s priorities were similar, and appropriate measures were enacted by the Georgia General Assembly.
The GLBC, with forty-nine members in 2004, is the largest state Black legislative caucus in the United States. Its success in recent years is attributable to more effective organization efforts, support by winning gubernatorial candidates for the GLBC’s agenda, and increased seniority and legislative leadership positions.