Crazy Faith Ministries
The great value in reading history is that one comes to realize that nothing that is happening is new. Where we are now is a place we have been before.
When it comes to voting and voter suppression, we most definitely have been here before. President Lyndon B. Johnson was determined to get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed, which he did, but there were those who were equally as determined to undermine and minimize the effects of that bill as well.
The South hated the bill in general because they believed the federal government had stepped out of line by telling the states how they should conduct their business. But they most hated Section 5 of the bill, which Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., called the “heart and soul” of the law. That section prohibited certain jurisdictions in the South from implementing changes in the requirements to vote without receiving approval from the United States attorney general.
The effect of Section 5, recently gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court, was to curtail arbitrary and clearly racist requirements from being implemented. The entire Voting Rights Act was repugnant to Southerners in general; some in the South called it the “Voting Wrong Act.”
Section 5 was particularly annoying to those who wanted to keep the power enjoyed by Whites over Blacks from shifting, which would make it possible for more African Americans to vote.
The resentment many in the South and the North carry, accompanied by their fear of the “Browning of America” is still with us, with voter suppression antics increasing with each election. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, against whom African American Stacy Abrams is running for governor, has reportedly put 53,000 voters on hold thus far, according to the Washington Post.
The United States Supreme Court has made it impossible for Native Americans to vote without a street address, something that Native Americans who live on reservations in North Dakota do not have and have not been required to have in years past.
Those are the occurrences that have gotten the most attention, but voter suppression is being practiced all over the country.
It is not surprising. Bigotry and white supremacy are partners in injustice, refusing to give up the fight for absolute power. In spite of many whining when race is mentioned as a contributing factor in all areas of American life, the fact is that America, or American democracy, was founded “simultaneously in liberty and slavery,” according to Ari Berman in his book, Give Us the Ballot.
The late Senator Strom Thurmond, D-S.C., said, “I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches.”
Thurmond led a campaign to disembowel the Voting Rights Act. He and others declared that the Voting Rights Act was an act of lawlessness and said that he and others were “determined” to “return law and order” to America.
Thurmond is long dead, but his voice and spirit, along with so many others, some deceased and some very much alive, are still with us, driving a relentless campaign to keep Black people from voting.
The campaign going on now to suppress the vote is disheartening and troubling, but it is important to remember that we have been here before. The strength of African Americans as a people is that we have learned to navigate racism and the injustice it fosters and supports.
None of the powers that be are stronger than our resolve and will to get what is ours because we are American citizens.
As President Lyndon Johnson said, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.”
Even though the storm of white supremacy is vicious and relentless, working to sap our strength and resolve, if we stop and remember that we have been here before – and have prevailed – we will get the energy we need to continue to fight for justice.
Rev. Dr. Susan K Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.