Derek Musgrove

George Derek Musgrove reflects on the surprisingly brief history of D.C.’s presidential primary

Washington D.C.’s presidential primary on June 14 marked the 60th anniversary of the District’s first-ever presidential primary. George Derek Musgrove ’97, history, associate professor of history, joined WAMU Radio to discuss why it took so long for the nation’s capital to have a say in presidential politics.

“Because it looks bad internationally,” Musgrove told WAMU. “We can’t be the capital of the free world, if in fact no one votes here.”

Musgrove is an expert in post-WWII United States history with an emphasis on African American politics. He is currently working on a book project about the history of race and democracy in Washington, D.C.

In the WAMU radio and print story “On D.C. primary day, celebrating 60 years of having a voice,” Musgrove explained that the history of the lack of a vote in presidential primaries extends all the way back to the nineteenth century.

“Remember that the excuse for stripping the city of the vote entirely in the 1870s was that black folks had the vote and would dominate the city with their vote,” he said. “And over the years, since the 1870s, segregationists in Congress had brought that back up repeatedly.”

Musgrove said that the city’s shifting demographics from majority white to majority black in the 1950s also played a role in D.C.’s push for voting rights, especially with Congress being heavily involved in the process.

“Black leaders in the city are very clear on who their enemies are in Congress and how those people will respond to their being involved in the effort to gain self-determination for the city.”

Listen to the full story on WAMU’s website.