By DUVALIER J. MALONE
Duvalier Malone Enterprises
Elections have consequences. I believe the American public is more aware of this fact now than we’ve been since perhaps the start of the Union. The late Congressman John Lewis said it best, “The vote is precious; it is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society. And we have to use it.”
Citizenship rights for African Americans were established by the 14th Amendment in 1868. Voting rights were not always a given. Voters of color were denied access to state voting places. To remedy this problem, the 15th Amendment was adopted in 1870. Race, color or former condition of servitude were not grounds for denying or restricting voting rights for citizens of the United States, according to the 15th Amendment.
Despite this, states found ways to circumvent the Constitution and limit the right to vote to African Americans. Voter fraud, intimidation and poll taxes all worked together to deter African Americans from casting their ballots. Many states utilized the “grandfather clause” to prevent descendants of enslaved persons from voting until the Supreme Court overturned it in 1915. People whose ancestors were enslaved were required by the regulation to vote if their grandfather had done so. There were protests in many American communities against this disparity in treatment. As recently as fifty years after the 15th Amendment was signed into law, African Americans continued to confront barriers to voting.
For decades, the struggle for African American suffrage persisted. I’m reminded of a story my late grandmother told me. She told me about her great-grandfather and grandfather, who had never voted in his life due to poll tax. This was particularly heartbreaking because my ancestors were tax-paying citizen who was denied representation in his country many years ago.
Like many courageous Americans, they marched, were arrested, and even died for voting equality. The March for Washington, organized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, drew more than 200,000 people to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about the challenges and disparities that African Americans continue to confront a century after liberation. As a result of King’s efforts, the political climate in the United States changed. In 1964, the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished poll taxes. The 1965 Voting Rights Act gave African Americans the ability to cast a ballot for the first time.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the status of African Americans in the South. That’s because the Voting Rights Act forbade states from using literacy tests and other techniques to disenfranchise Blacks from voting. Previously, only about 23% of Blacks of voting age were registered, and however, by 1969, that figure had risen to 61%. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a critical safeguard against discrimination in our voting system. Regrettably, the Supreme Court has struck down the legislation twice in the previous eight years, rendering it incapable of safeguarding Americans from increasingly aggressive voter discrimination.
Voting rights would be strengthened by the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Introducing this legislation at this point is crucial. The current effort to restrict access to the vote box is vast in scope. There are about 19 states that passed 33 laws this year, making it harder to vote. These legislations specifically target minorities, resulting in even more racial inequities in access to the ballot box. This is why all Americans must participate in their local, state and federal elections. Most of all, these bills are being introduced at the state level. You must continue to participate in the political process at all levels by staying engaged with issues that will affect your rights as a citizen.
We must expose politicians’ wrongdoings and hold them accountable at every level. America is today engulfed in deception, and we must all play a role in combating it. Fifty-two senators, two Democrats and all Republicans betrayed their constituents by permitting the filibuster to block vital voting rights legislation. In the words of Senator Raphael Warnock, “You cannot remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and dismember his legacy at the same time.”
Protecting our democracy and voting rights is ALL lawmakers’ responsibility. The Senate must now act swiftly to enact the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The Senate must make the necessary changes to the filibuster and immediately pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Let us begin by making demands. It is time for us to claim our rightful place at the table. Since our ancestors arrived in this country, Black Americans have been the backbone of American progress. We have fought courageously in American battles, pledged allegiance to American values and loved America even when she did not love us back.
Duvalier Malone is the CEO of Duvalier Malone Enterprises, a global consulting firm. He is also a motivational speaker, community activist and the author of Those Who Give A Damn: A Manual for Making a Difference.
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