This predominantly black county in the Mississippi delta was betting on a revolution in Tuesday's election.

A voting drive had added blacks to the rolls. A federal court intervened to set up three supervisor districts that were 65 percent black. The Justice Department dispatched 65 observers to promote fair play. Black turnout was brisk.

But when the votes were counted in Quitman County, which is 56 percent black and one of the poorest counties in the nation's poorest state, whites were still in control.

Now local black leaders are struggling to explain why so many white candidates received so many black votes.

"The revolution just didn't happen. We've got to go back to the drawing board," said James Figgs, president of the local NAACP and chairman of the county Democratic Executive Committee. "The enthusiasm for blacks to get out and vote for black candidates just didn't filter down."

Before the election, whites had a 4-to-1 majority on the county board of supervisors. When the counting stopped, the breakdown seemed unchanged: two of the victors were white, one was black, and whites appeared likely to win runoffs for the remaining two seats.

Even Jack Harrison, the controversial white sheriff acquitted three years ago by an all-white federal jury of charges that he beat up a black inmate, led a field of five candidates. He received approximately one out of every four black votes, and faces a black underdog in a runoff.

"There's been no change," said Harrison, 57. "They had a chance to throw out the whites and they didn't. But the majority of blacks aren't unhappy. We just have several militant types stirring people up."

He was accepting congratulations in Mitchell's Cafe, across the street from his furniture store, where last month's half-price sale drew hundreds of black customers. Harrison's offers good terms, easy credit.

Politically, "the sale didn't hurt," he said, sipping a Tab. "But if I'd mistreated anybody, no black would have voted for me. That's as logical as adding two and two."

One black customer got down on his knees and kissed Harrison's campaign poster by the cash register, according to the sheriff's father, who runs the store. "They know black folks can't give 'em anything," said L.V. Harrison, 80. "Only white folks can help 'em."

The story of Quitman County was repeated across the state. Black turnout was reported higher than ever for a statewide race; but the total of black elected officials increased by only 24, up from 427. Eight percent of the elected officials in Mississippi are now black. Overall, 36 percent of the state's population is black. Thirty-seven blacks are candidates in runoffs.

Some blacks charged that polling officials across the state denied illiterate voters their choice of escorts into the voting booths. And in Quitman County, plantation owners who hire and fire sent a subtle message to black voters by lingering at the polls, black leaders charged.

One black youth said he was fired by white service station owner Matt Jennings the day after Jennings' brother failed to make the sheriff's runoff because he refused to hustle black votes for the candidate.

"That's a lie," scoffed Jennings, who accused the youth of malingering.

"That's why black people can't have no damn revolution," said Leslie McLemore, a Jackson State University professor. "White people own everything."

On Tuesday, just outside this county seat of 2,300, where the late civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., launched his Poor People's March on Washington 20 years ago this month, Willie McDougal, 28, stopped chopping weeds in the cotton fields to go vote.

"People used to vote for their bosses, but now you can vote for who you want to," he said, giving heavy thought to supervisor Harold Chrestman, white incumbent for 28 years. He owns a country store frequented by blacks.

"He's a good man," nodded Roger Smith, 18. "He gives credit."

Chrestman, 52, led his three-man race. He faces a black challenger in the runoff and is expected to pick up the defeated white challenger's votes.

Told of his support in the cotton field, he beamed, referred to blacks in deprecating language, and remarked that all blacks are not radicals. Some of them "own lots and homes like me and you. They know when someone isn't qualified."

James Turner, 30, a black auto worker who returned to Mississippi to work after being laid off in Detroit, fended off the hot sun with a cap that said, "I don't get mad, I get even." But he wasn't out to settle any score.

"I don't think it's right to vote for just one race," he said. "I'll mix 'em up."

Black leaders here say such outlooks explain why a revolution hasn't happened. Blacks vote for whites; few whites vote for blacks.

Tension remains high from a black boycott that hurt white merchants badly two years ago, before white aldermen agreed to allow a black development association to build a laundry, cafe and credit union. Whites also curse the Rev. Jesse Jackson, "that agitator from Chicago."

"There's a certain segment of whites who want to turn back the clock," said Fred Vincent, 36, white city clerk. "But I'd like to think a good, honest black citizen could be elected in Quitman County."

On Thursday, officials opened affidavit ballots cast in one 65-percent-black supervisor district. Manuel Killebrew, a black teacher, was tied, 582 to 582, with Leroy Reid, a white farmer.

Asked how he won black votes, Reid said, "I just live before 'em every day. If it's legal to help 'em, I help 'em. If it's not, I don't."

He complained to federal officials that one black woman helped 40 blacks to vote.

"When they meet 'em at the car door and say, 'I'm going to vote you,' that's not assistance, that's persuasion. That's what you've been accusing us of doing," he said, as officials scribbled notes.

Reid lost by six votes. "I'm going to hang it up. It's just getting too hard to be in politics," he said.

Blacks were on the ballot for almost every local job that mattered: sheriff, district attorney, chancery clerk, circuit clerk--all held by whites. Jalopies and muddy pickups cruised the cotton fields, offering blacks free rides to polls.

People seemed fired up, inspired by Harold Washington's mayoral victory in Chicago. Sammy McCray's mother traveled from Chicago to campaign for her oldest son, the only one of 12 children who hadn't gone north. He was running for chancery clerk against a white incumbent.

"Blacks couldn't even vote when I was here," she said. "My father paid poll taxes."

But her son lost.

Now some black leaders wonder if fiery political rhetoric, designed to get people excited, scared older blacks as much as whites into keeping the status quo.

"We may need a new approach," said local NAACP President Figgs. "We may have been a little bit too radical."