Dr. King –surely his ideals still resonate?
[Race Matters: Op-Ed]
I dream of the beautiful day when racism in America is a thing of the past.
I dream of a time when no US citizen – regardless of their race, gender, socioeconomic background, system of faith, national origin, state of residence, or political affiliation – will have his or her right to vote infringed upon. Those were wonderful dreams. Then, I woke up.
The US Supreme Court recently struck down the constitutionality of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act; a critical part of the most significant voting legislation in the history of this country. I wonder how many American citizens are truly aware of the complete chaos and adverse consequences set in motion by SCOTUS’s legal ruling. How can the Supreme Court trust trust such a divided and partisan Congress to create a new system to re-establish the terms for the pre-clearance that Section 4 guaranteed?
Without Section 4 in place, Section 5 of the VRA has no protective power. Section 5 needs Section 4.
A conservative SCOTUS now looks to a gridlocked Congress for a solution for a race-conscious problem? In 2013? The same Congress which cannot reach consensus on any of the major issues — comprehensive immigration reform, the debt ceiling, gun safety regulation, to name a few?
So it is that the greatest democratic superpower on Earth expends considerable resources to insist on free and fair voting protocols in under-developed countries; but cannot do it here.
Every American needs equal access to the ballot box. There were legitimate reasons for voter protection laws in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Alaska, and Virginia in the first place. Yet, the crown jewel of the civil rights movement was struck down by a 5-4 vote.
Aspects of this nation’s dark yesteryears are prologue. The road which ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Congress was a tear-stained, blood-soaked, indignity-filled dirt road paved by prayer, patience, and perseverance. Have we forgotten that it took the 15th Amendment to the Constitution – which legally affirmed that US citizens’ right to vote could not be denied due to their race, skin color, or previous condition of servitude to wipe away the festering wounds inflicted by the 13th Amendment which explicitly recognized and protected the institution of slavery?
Have we quickly forgotten the often shameful history of how African Americans and immigrants have been mistreated as it relates to the right to vote in the United States? They faced illegal hurdles specifically created to stop them from voting. Activities such as literacy tests, poll taxes, restrictive residency requirements, invasive voter registration procedures, overt intimidation, and implied threats of violence were commonplace against immigrants in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries – especially in the South.
Stop to consider the negative ramifications which came about in the aftermath of the VRA. The Voting Rights Act passage effectively ended Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency. The Voting Rights Act’s passage in 1965 remains the primary reason all Southern states vote Republican without hesitation or deviation today. VRA led to the insidious political Trojan horse known as the “Southern strategy”.
Richard Nixon successfully used the strategy during his 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns, running largely as a political avenger to the Civil Rights Movement under the guise of states’ rights while utilizing the latent anger of working class White Americans against poor people of color. Nixon’s victory was a case of election by racial division and class bias.
I cannot believe that most Americans are unaware of the price paid by people of color to ensure that their children and their children’s children can vote today. How could we forget the countless beatings, lynchings, and assassinations suffered by people both famous and obscure? How could we forget high pressure water hoses, trained police dogs, and police batons being unleashed against people protesting peacefully for their rights as citizens?
How could we forget Freedom Summer – when James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, Mississippi simply for registering Black people to vote?
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. King wrote those words on April 16, 1963 in his legendary “Letter From Birmingham Jail”; where he had been incarcerated for peacefully demonstrating against racism and racial segregation. I know in my heart that if he was alive today, he would demand that the Voting Rights Act be upheld in its entirety. After all, these were key components of his dream of a unified and righteous America.
Someday, VRA protections may no longer be required as laws of the land. Our stewardship, friendship, fellowship, and discipleship toward each other at that enlightened time will shine as a futuristic beacon of light against a darkened, long-lost past. That day is not today.
Until that day comes, the right of all eligible Americans to vote must continue to be monitored and protected. The dream has not yet been achieved. With the gutting of VRA, welcome to a new national nightmare.
The Reverend Arthur L. Jones, III is a Baptist Minister, Op-Ed columnist, NAACP member, proud Democrat, and an Alpha man. Rev. Jones welcomes your comments! Please email him directly at: [email protected].
Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman and the angry reactions nationwide President Obama in White House remarks encouraged a conversation on race matters. Feel free to submit articles or commentary to [email protected]