November 5, 2013 is Election Day.
While engaging in a political discussion with a young African-American male, he disclosed that he sees no point in voting. He indicated that his one vote does not have any value.
His close acquaintances shared his sentiments. These young men were Detroit residents, in their late twenties and early thirties. After our discourse, one pivotal argument resonated in my mind, but formulating this argument took some research. Subsequently, I began to ponder over the reasons why my young brothers needed to vote.
A voting mind must be a literate mind—one who possesses reading comprehension. The first questions proposed in this writer’s argument reads as follows:
Why would politicians and governmental bodies support legislation that prohibited blacks to vote and read? Likewise, why would countless number of people die, endure threats and torture, and advocate for the Constitution of the United States to be amended to allow blacks the right to vote?
Actions to prevent blacks from being literate, and in turn keeping them from voting was a concerted effort that dates back for hundreds of years in America.
Case in point: Whereas the teaching of slaves to read and write, has a tendency to excite dissatisfaction in their minds, and to produce insurrection and rebellion, to the manifest injury of the citizens of This State: Acts Passed by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at the Session of 1830-1831
It is evident from the Carolina Act that there was an inherent threat involved in allowing slaves to read or write. Subsequently, “The ignorance of the slaves was considered necessary to the security of the slaveholders (Albanese, 1976). Not only did owners fear the spread of specifically abolitionist materials, they did not want slaves to question their authority; thus, reading and reflection were to be prevented at any cost”.
The Amendments: In name only
The Amendments to the Constitution were the Federal Government’s attempts to keep state governments from prohibiting blacks to vote. However, the impact of the Amendments were snuffed out before the ink dried on the paper.
1866: The first Civil Rights Act granted citizenship to all native-born American, but not the right to vote. This law did not include as American: Black people, Mexican people, Asians, Native Americans, and Indians from India.
1866: the 14th Amendment to the federal Constitution was passed guaranteeing citizenship to the former slaves and changing them from 3/5ths human being to equal human beings.
1869: Congress passes the fifteenth Amendment giving African American men the equal rights to vote. It also marked the beginning of “Black Codes”, laws designed to keep black men and people in general from voting.
After the passing of the Amendments violence and intimidation still kept many African-Americans from casting their votes. Mississippi’s draconian efforts to keep African-Americans from voting imposed, poll taxes, literacy tests, property requirements, unintelligible registration procedures, and laws disenfranchising voters for minor criminal offenses.
(In America today many former inmates are still prevented from voting if they were charged of a felony).
Several Southern states continued to enact laws making it difficult for blacks to vote. In 1940, only 3% of eligible African-Americans in the South were registered to vote. By the end of the 1950s, seven Southern states still had literacy tests and five states used poll taxes to prevent African-Americans from registering. In Alabama, voters had to provide written answers to a twenty-page test on the Constitution and on state and local government. http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/background-voting#
The fight continued
In the 1950s and early 1960s the U.S. Congress once again enacted laws to protect the rights of African Americans to vote. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed and the Twenty-fourth Amendment, abolishing poll taxes for voting for federal offices, was ratified.
The following year President Lyndon B. Johnson called for comprehensive federal legislation to protect voting rights. The resulting act, the Voting Rights Act, ended literacy tests, provided for federal approval of proposed changes to voting laws or procedures in jurisdictions that had previously used tests to determine voter eligibility .
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver said that African-Americans who don’t vote “ought to give us their color back.” http://cnsnews.com/news/
According to Joe Sudbay of American Blog, the Republican Party has a long history of voter suppression, so it’s no surprise that they still want to suppress the black vote in 2013. It is surprising, however, that they’d actually admit it.
The final questions posed by this writer are, “Since having gone through a history in America of disenfrancisement to the point of people dying for the future of Americans living in America with an Africa heritage is a testament to the power of the vote—why not exercise it”.“Why drop the mantel now and have African American history die without distinction?”
Laws had to be amended and others had to be ratified in order for black people to go to voting booths without dying, being attacked by police dogs, or being hosed to the point of affixation.
A sound person cannot be heard saying, “I don’t believe in education or reading and writing”. Likewise, the same endurance that it took for our forefathers to secure the right for blacks to read and write was the same stamina required to secure the right for people of color to vote without undue process or intimidation.
There are still some questionable practices today that are suspect when it comes to voting rights—such as the closing of voting locations without prior notice to the public. However, my young African American brother was partially correct; his vote has no value—especially if he does not exercise his right to vote.
ReferencesAlbanese, Anthony. (1976.) the Plantation School. New York: Vantage Books.
Woodson, C.G. (1915). The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861: A History of the Education of the Colored People of the United States from the Beginning of Slavery to the Civil War. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Voting Rights Act. (2013). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/633044/Voting-Rights-Act