Fighting for Fair Representation in North Carolina

In 2020, Keisha Dobie, a lifelong educator and a native of Elizabeth City, the predominantly African American county seat of Pasquotank County, NC, embarked on a journey that has made her a passionate advocate for a fair redistribution of boroughs.

She lives in the state’s semi-rural northeast, which includes census areas with high poverty rates and communities that speak of a significant Black presence for centuries. Partially bordering Virginia to the north along the Atlantic Seaboard, it’s a region people traverse on their way to enjoy the surfing, beaches, and islands of the Outer Banks, where near the town of Kitty Hawk was where the Wright brothers made their breakthrough achieved flight.

Dobie, who is well into her 40s, understood that the census provides states, counties and cities with dollars and resources per capita. Now she has gained a deeper understanding of how unfair reallocations can virtually ensure who gets voted into the decision-making roles that determine where and how those funds are spent.

Given North Carolina’s well-documented intransigence on issues of justice for its minority communities, Dobie is under no illusions about the immediate prospects of fair redistribution success in Pasquotank.

The new maps for the 14 congressional districts and 170 state districts were drawn by the North Carolina Legislature’s Redistribution Committee and approved by the Republican-dominated state legislature in November.

In a 2021 press conference after the maps were released to the public, longtime African-American Representative GK Butterfield, a Democrat, announced his resignation as representative of North Carolina’s first congressional district. This district includes Pasquotank among other counties in the Northeast.

“The map that was recently enacted by the legislature is a partisan map,” Butterfield said. “It’s racially manipulated; it will disadvantage African American communities throughout the first congressional district.”

Unless the current court challenges are upheld, the new maps will remain in effect for this year’s election and until after the 2030 census, when the redistribution cycle occurs again. However, if history truly bends toward justice, Dobie’s current efforts and those of her peers and supporters could result in a surge in resources in the future — and a new, multi-generational cadre of pro-district redistribution advocates.

According to Kyle Hamilton Brazile, director of civic engagement at the NC Counts Coalition, grassroots activist engagement continues to grow despite the obstacles that have accompanied this decade’s new district cycle, which has been marked by similarly successful GOP gerrymandering, particularly in the South. “The silver lining is that there is a surge of people participating [redistricting] process,” Brazile said. “We are happy about that.”

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