BLACK VOICES
11/29/2018 09:35 pm ET

Black Women Break Barriers In Mississippi With Historic Court Wins

"Maybe the citizens are no longer looking at gender but they’re looking strictly at qualifications," said one judge-elect.

Black women scored noteworthy victories this week in runoff elections for one Mississippi county’s circuit court. Their wins felt especially significant for some people, coming as they did on the same night that Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith won despite the backlash over her racist remarks.

Three out of the four judges on the Hinds County Circuit Court will now be black women.

Faye Peterson, a former Hinds County district attorney, and state Rep. Adrienne Wooten won their runoff elections on Tuesday.

 “It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Peterson told the Clarion-Ledger that night. “I can’t believe it.”

Wooten and Peterson join Senior Judge Tomie Green, who won re-election earlier this month, and Judge Winston Kidd, who ran unopposed

This will be the first time that three black women ― Wooten, Peterson and Green ― serve together as circuit court judges in Hinds County, Zack Wallace, the circuit clerk, told HuffPost. With Kidd’s victory, it will also be the first time that all four judges on the Hinds County court are black, Wallace said. 

“It’s historical ― it is,” Wooten said in an interview with local ABC affiliate WAPT 16. “All I can say to that is that maybe the citizens are no longer looking at gender but they’re looking strictly at qualifications.” 

Peterson, who was the first black woman to serve as district attorney for Hinds County, told the station that having a female majority on the court is “surreal.”

“I could see that we could wind up with an entirely African-American bench just based on the demographics of the county, but to find three women, oh that’s a moment to pause,” she said.

Hinds County, which includes the state capital of Jackson, is approximately 72 percent black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 statistics. Mike Espy, the Democratic candidate for senator running against Hyde-Smith, won Hinds County with 77 percent of the vote. 

Republican Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the Senate following the resignation of veteran Sen. Thad Cochran earlier this year, drew controversy over her comments about voter suppression and a quip about public hanging that evoked outrage that it made light of Mississippi’s long history of lynchings. A video revealed Hyde-Smith praising one of her supporters by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”

The senator later apologized to “anyone that was offended” by the hanging remark but also insisted it was being used as a “political weapon” against her.  

While Hyde-Smith’s comments sparked public discussion about the violent history of racism in Mississippi and elsewhere, people on social media have celebrated Hinds County’s historic election results. 

Thank you for some good news to be shared out of Mississippi!” one Twitter user wrote. 

“This is the good news we needed,” another said. 

Peterson told WAPT 16 that the victories in Hinds County sent a message especially to young women “to envision the possibilities that you can get past political barriers, that you can rise in your profession and you don’t have to leave Mississippi to do it.”

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