|Building on the legacy of the
collection of oral histories for the Ralph Bunche Collection, in the early 1990s the
research staff at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center sought to fund again a
documentation project that would empower their efforts to research and document the
tumultuous changes wrought by the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, itself an outgrowth of
the Civil Rights Movement.2
In the fall of 1994 Ms. Avril Madison of the MSRC research staff approached me about working as Project historian/writer, conducting oral interviews, and preparing an annotated reference guide for the Voting Rights Act Documentation Project (VRADP).3 Because I had recently served as an expert witness for the federal government's defense of a Georgia congressional district,4 I was already familiar with the legal, historical and social science scholarship on voting rights legislation; enforcement and preclearance requirements; precedent and standard-setting court decisions; redistricting and single member districts; the impact of racially polarized voting in the South; minority vote dilution; and the emerging new set of standards accompanying what would become a litany of "Shaw-like"cases. I brought many years of experience in conducting oral interviews, sometimes under difficult circumstances, a familiarity with the many issues involved, and a keen interest in working to document the consequences of the Voting Rights Act for the political involvement of the growing numbers of African American women and men in public officeholding in the South.
Spanning two years and organized into two research phases, the VRADP sought to use oral interviews with approximately 60 African American state legislators, judges, Congresspersons, and Virginia's former governor, Douglas Wilder, to investigate the consequences of the Voting Rights Act for African American participation in electoral politics and public officeholding in the eight southern states initially the focus of the VRA and its Amendments.5 Specifically, the initial goal of the VRADP was to interview Black officials elected to public office in the eight states between 1965 and 1985.