NAACP continues battle with Beaufort for City Council districts

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 15, 2014 

Darryl Murphy is not comfortable with what he saw Tuesday night at Beaufort City Council's meeting: "an entire council of all-white faces, and I live in a county where 26 percent of residents are African American."

Murphy is president of the Burton-Dale-Beaufort NAACP branch. He is working with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to push the city to end at-large elections for council seats and adopt single-member districts, which he believes would improve the chances of a minority winning a seat.

"We feel like we have taxation without representation," Murphy said.

The last two black council members were Fred Washington Jr., who served from 1979 to 1993, and Alice Wright, from 1982 to 1987. Washington and others could only think of three black candidates since his term ended.

The NAACP and city attorney Bill Harvey have been trading letters since November. The city's most recent response, dated March 11, asks the NAACP to provide examples of districts that would meet the organization's goal.

Murphy said that won't happen.

"If we propose the map, the city may very well just not give it any kind of support as far as discussion," he said. "... I don't think it would be something they would be very receptive of."

The NAACP maintains it's possible to draw either four or six districts in which one contains a majority of black voters. The mayor would still be elected at large. City officials say they see no way to draw a contiguous district with a black majority.

Mayor Billy Keyserling is among those who are skeptical that a majority-black district could be created that meets other legal requirements, but he said Tuesday he remains open-minded to suggestions from the NAACP.

Even were it inclined to do so, City Council could not adopt districts on its own. Such a change would require approval from voters in a citywide referendum, according to letters from both the NAACP and Harvey.

However, City Council has the authority to put the referendum on a ballot.

"It is necessary that Council has a full analysis and understanding of the various options before deciding whether to commit this issue to a referendum," Harvey wrote.

Murphy said the local NAACP will meet with the national organization's Legal Defense and Education Fund this week to figure out its next steps. He says he won't back down.

"We're going to take this until it's done, until we get single-member districts and representation," he said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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