JACKSON, Miss. — Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree on Tuesday became the first black candidate in modern times to win major-party nod for Mississippi governor in a state that hasn't had a black statewide official since Reconstruction.
DuPree, 57, won a Democratic primary runoff and advances to the Nov. 8 general election to face Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, 56, of Brandon.
"I'm just so proud of the fact that we had people who believed in us, believed in the message, believed in what we're trying to accomplish. I'm so proud that people took a hold of that," DuPree said in a phone interview from a Hattiesburg community center, where he celebrated with family and supporters.
DuPree is the first black mayor of Hattiesburg, and is running a race-neutral campaign. In a 15-second commercial recently posted to his campaign website, DuPree looks directly into the camera and says: "I'm here to talk to you about color – green."
DuPree holds up a $1 bill and continues: "Better jobs mean more money for Mississippians. And we do that with better schools and safer streets. More green means a better tomorrow."
With a population that's 37 percent black, Mississippi has more black elected officials than any state in the nation. However, that doesn't extend statewide.
Funding could be a challenge for DuPree in the 11 weeks leading to the general election. Bryant already has spent $3.1 million on his campaign – more than twice as much combined as DuPree and his primary opponent, developer Bill Luckett, who is white.
"We're going to campaign regardless of whether we have a million dollars or half a million dollars," DuPree said.
Luckett was joined at his election-night party by actor Morgan Freeman, his partner in two Clarksdale businesses, and whom he had mentioned frequently during this campaign.
Two other high-profile black politicians ran for Mississippi governor as independents in the 1970s. Charles Evers, brother of slain civil-rights leaders Medgar Evers, ran in 1971. State Sen. Henry Kirksey ran in 1975. Neither had to go through a primary.
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour could not seek a third term this year.