Do African-Americans really believe black lives matter? If so, why is there so much voter apathy? Can voting change the landscape in black communities as it has within the lives of other groups? If voting can change the landscape in our communities, how do you suppose it will happen?
Then there are others of you out there who ponder this question: Why bother to vote?
Join the upcoming “Ready, Set, Vote” Community forum Saturday Oct. 29 at noon at Metropolitan AME Church in D.C. at 1518 M Street NW, where the senior pastor is Rev. Dr. William Lamar IV. The Social Justice Community Outreach Ministry, chaired by Rev. Aisha Karimah, is inviting everyone out to let your voices be heard. Join co-moderators Maureen Bunyan, WJLA anchor, and Paul Holston, editor-in-chief of The Hilltop newspaper, along with forum panelists Colbert I. King, Washington Post columnist; Elsie L. Scott, founding director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership Institute; Terrance Johnson, faculty fellow of the Department of Theology at Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center; Kenishia Grant, assistant political science professor at Howard University; and myself and others in this timely and significant conversation.
Let’s discuss the question that Rev. Karimah posed: Why bother to vote?
Here’s why: The Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on Aug. 6, 1965, aimed to put an end to those who would prevent African-Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States.
Johnson, who assumed the presidency in November 1963 upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy, pushed for legislation to improve the American way of life, such as stronger voting-rights laws.
In 1965, at the time of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there were six African-American members of the U.S. House of Representatives and no blacks in the U.S. Senate. By 1971, there were 13 members of the House and one black member of the Senate.
After the U.S. Civil War (1861-65), the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Nevertheless, in the ensuing decades, various discriminatory practices were used to prevent African-Americans, particularly those in the South, from exercising their right to vote.
During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, one event that outraged many Americans occurred on March 7, 1965, when peaceful participants in a voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery were met by Alabama state troopers who attacked them with nightsticks, tear gas and whips after they refused to turn back. Some protesters were severely beaten, and others ran for their lives. The incident was captured on national television.
This caused Johnson to call for comprehensive voting rights legislation. In a speech to a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965, the president outlined the devious ways in which election officials denied African-American citizens the vote.
As seen in the movie “Selma,” blacks attempting to vote often were told they had gotten the date, time or polling place wrong, that they possessed insufficient literacy skills or that they had filled out an application incorrectly. Blacks, whose population suffered a high rate of illiteracy due to centuries of oppression and poverty, often would be forced to take literacy tests, which they inevitably failed. Johnson also told Congress that voting officials, primarily in Southern states, had been known to force black voters to “recite the entire Constitution or explain the most complex provisions of state laws,” a task most white voters would have been hard-pressed to accomplish. In some cases, even blacks with college degrees were turned away from the polls.
This is enough of a reminder of why African-Americans must vote!
Lyndia Grant is a radio talk show host on WYCB (1340 AM), Fridays at 6 p.m. Visit her website at www.lyndiagrant.com. Contact her at 202-558-2107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.