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‘Give Us the Ballot’

MOLLIE F. BELT | 2/2/2015, 3:44 a.m.
Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Give Us the Ballot address to the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington, ...
Mollie Finch Belt, publisher of The Dallas Examiner

The Dallas Examiner

Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Give Us the Ballot address to the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington, D.C., on May 17, 1957:

“Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.

Give us the ballot, and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.

Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

Give us the ballot, and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill and send to the sacred halls of Congressmen who will not sign a ‘Southern Manifesto’ because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.

Give us the ballot, and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy, and we will place at the head of the Southern states governors who will, who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.

Give us the ballot, and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May 7, 1954.

In this juncture of our nation’s history, there is an urgent need for dedicated and courageous leadership. If we are to solve the problems ahead and make racial justice a reality, this leadership must be fourfold.”

King hoped to get the federal government to fulfill the promise of the three-year-old Brown vs. Board of Education decision. National civil rights leaders called for a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King spoke last and gave that speech on the right to vote. It is reported that 20,000 people listened to the speeches.

Fifty-eight years later … where are we now? There are no laws or practices keeping us from getting registered to vote and voting. We can have the ballot? But are we using the ballot?

Registered voters have an opportunity to vote at a variety of locations during a 13-day early voting period, which generally begins 17 days before Election Day. And of course, they can vote on Election Day. Many Texans who vote do take advantage of the convenience. Still, statistics show that African Americans show up to the polls in very low numbers during the entire election period.

Usually, the statistics are reflected in the victories on Election Day, in propositions that are passed or not passed, and decisions made in Austin and on Capitol Hill. Maybe during election time we forget that political positions, such as those in Congress, city council, the courthouses, etc. affect our lives. Maybe we have failed to become informed, so we think its better not to vote at all. Yet, even those who didn’t find time to make it to the polls can find time to complain about the way the government is run. But even then, it’s not enough to motivate us to the polls.

The movie Selma had images of a Negro not being allowed to register to vote. It had images of people being dragged, beaten and murdered in the struggle to obtain the right for the Negro to vote. Hopefully, seeing these images will motivate people of color – who are not exercising their right to vote – to vote.

I remember my mother Mildred Finch telling me how difficult it was for Negroes to get registered to vote in Tuskegee, Alabama, in the late 40’s and early 50’s. When Negroes went downtown to pay their poll tax and register to vote, the office door was locked and they were told the registration office was closed. Those that were (eventually) able to register were very protective of their poll tax/voter registration. My mother always carried her voter registration in her wallet until she died. And today, I carry my voter registration card in my wallet all the time. It is sacred to me.

The Dallas Examiner will continue to publish information so our readers will be informed voters.

Hopefully, we will see increased voter turnout in the upcoming May 9 election.

Join the conversation. Send your letters to mbelt@dallasexaminer.com.