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Race Relations, Class, and Voting Rights

       February 2019 



It's Your Time Now

Ask the average high school student, or even some adults, the significance of the Civil Rights Movement, and you will probably get some variation of these answers: “Black people weren’t treated the same as other people. They wanted to live, shop, and go to school, and sit on the bus where they wanted. They wanted to vote and have better jobs. Dr. King came along and most of the Black people and some white people marched and protested until some things changed.”

Who or what gets left out?

Many leave out the central mission of the Civil Rights Movement—changing or implementing laws that would provide legal protections for African Americans. Why did that need to be the central mission?  Let’s look at some examples:

In 1892, Creole Homer Plessy sued for a violation of his constitutional rights when a new Louisiana law required him to sit in a separate part of the train. He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled against him, stating that Blacks and whites were equal before the law, but that did not mean that they were equal in society. This single court decision resulted in the spread of “keep them separate” laws (known as Jim Crow laws) across the U.S. and issued in almost 80 years of horrific economic, social, and often deadly consequences for African Americans, consequences impacting generations to come.  Our voices were silenced on juries and in politics. Regular people, appointed by an elected official, had the power to encode in law the fallacy that we were so different that we had to be kept separate in all of society. Not only were laws changed, but people’s perception of the value of an African American person was changed.   

When the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was created in 1934 that allowed 15 to 30 year mortgages, banks created maps that “
redlinedBlack neighborhoods so they could not receive loans to purchase or upgrade their homes. Other neighborhoods put in covenants that said no Negroes could buy there. There were no laws that prevented this. The lack of investment led to slums, and massive property-related wealth was lost because of these practices.

1963 March on Washington / IIP Photo Archive

My Dad, Rev. George Lee, Medgar Evers, and many others were killed or injured for trying to gain voting rights. The killers did not fear consequences because the judicial system was applied differently for Black people murdered by white people, particularly if the victim was trying to gain economic or political power.  

Every town got to set its own rules about who could or could not vote.  Black people were required to take literacy and American government tests in order to register to vote. White applicants were not.

When I was young, many companies would not interview or take applications from African Americans, no matter what their qualifications might be, creating generational economic consequences.  There were no laws to prevent this.

From the examples above, we see that throughout U.S. history, the economic and physical well-being of African Americans was and always will be tied to whether legal protections were/are in place. Many, many people played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, but the ultimate goal was to implement and change laws in order to provide legal protections.  

There were scholars who studied problems and determined their root causes. They identified who was in control of an issue, who needed to be reached or moved, who would most likely help, etc.

The strategists, young and old, took their analyses and devised methodical ways to bring suits in the right jurisdictions with the best judges in order to gain the most fair rulings.

College students provided citizenship classes and classes on how to use voting machines.  They protested and got their stories on television. They created well-written letters for less-literate, though powerful local leaders.  They networked and spoke to the educated in the language of the educated.

Ministers gave instructions, wisdom, bravery, and spiritual support from the pulpit. Local leaders like my Dad did not allow anyone to get the vote of the African American community and not provide “service after the election”.

People in the arts--poets, artists, songwriters, musicians, actors, playwrights, and singers appealed to the emotions and brought daily public attention to suffering and injustices suffered by African Americans.  

The people who marched caused their story to be covered by the press, and others became aware. This reached sympathetic people who had the power and/or money to help with the cause or to bring public scrutiny to an issue. 

The Black press, through Black-owned newspapers and magazines, made sure that people were informed because actions, lawsuits, etc. in one parts of the U.S. had an impact on other your part of the country.  They reached people who were hurt by legal, political, and economic systems and this helped rally the troops and grow the movement. 

Organizations such as the NAACP and its Legal Defense Fund collected small amounts from across the U.S. which they used to fund lawsuits filed on behalf of its members and non-members in the areas of voter rights, economic fairness, and human dignity.  Representing and fighting for the masses, who often were (and still are) unaware of what was being done on their behalf, they presented cases, from local courts all the way to the Supreme Court. Their activism was so great that the NAACP was banned for a period in some southern states.

So-called radical groups and movements provided an obvious contrast to the nonviolent movement, and deliberately or inadvertently scared some into listening to and helping groups that were specifically trying to change the laws.


Times-Dispatch

Regular folks, clubs, and organizations wrote letters to the Federal government to voice complaints and concerns regarding disrespect of citizens and inhumane treatment.  Their individual complaints created a case that higher-level officials would eventually use to support taking action. People like my dad, Rev. John H. Scott and Rev. Joseph Atlas risked life and property to ensure that the issues of their town were addressed at the highest levels of government.  

The U.S. Justice Department took up cases like my father’s and filed suits directly against the states where citizens were denied the right to vote.

The work of the masses led to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the creation of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and many other law changes that addressed significant legal, political, economic, and social issues for African Americans.
 

Everything anyone would have done would have just been noise, just yelling into the wind, if laws had not changed.  

So what about today?  The Voting Rights Act has been gutted.  Laws are being changed to restrict our access to voting and economic empowerment.  Judges with clear records against equal rights for Blacks are being nominated and moved into high level court positions where they will have the final word.

So how do we stop this moving train toward the removal of legal protections and make needed changes to laws and law enforcement?   

  • We must get informed, and that most likely won’t be via social media. Read newspapers. Get updates from organization such as the NAACP (Subscribe Here).
  • Elect the right people and prevent the election of harmful people.
  • The people we elect will then make or change laws and oversee law enforcement. Whether they are fair or unfair depends on whom we pick.
  • The people we elect will appoint judges, commissioners, and law enforcement staff, and even hire people who determine your children’s access to education.
  • The people appointed by the people we elect will make policies that impact our access to housing, shopping, transportation, etc. They will arrest and render judgements, some of which you will have to live with for decades because of lifetime appointments.   
It all centers on this simple word:

 
VOTE
 
African Americans keep gaining and losing legal protections.  Until we make legal protection the top priority of EVERY generation, we will continue going around and around this mountain.  We must vote in every election as if our very life depends on it. Very soon, it just might; for some, their lives already have.

The leaders of the past paid their price.

It's Now Your Time. 

 
We’re glad history matters to you!
History Matters Institute
www.cleoscottbrown.com


Article written with contributions from A. Um’rani, writer, semi-retired mental health therapist, community volunteer, and history lover, who focuses on the intersection of politics and human behavior for her assistance with this article.
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A Dangerous Organization
 

One organization stands alone in the level of its threat to African American legal protections.  The tiny Project on Fair Representation, formed and run by Edward Blum but funded by wealthy donors, has made it its sole mission to systematically challenge laws, most at the Supreme Court level, with a goal of removing all laws that provide legal protections to non-whites. Their focus areas are: Removing protections associated with voting and counting fewer people of color in creating districts; removing racial considerations in school admissions at all grade levels and in the awarding of scholarships and enrichment programs; getting rid of all fixed percentages in contracts that are awarded based on race or gender (this also would seriously impact white females); and providing legal representation for white people who claim to be victims of racial discrimination.

They were responsible for the gutting of the Voting Rights Act via their suit Shelby County vs. Holder, which set in motion many other negative legal changes.  Their Bush v. Vera suit resulted in the striking down of two majority-black districts in Texas.  They tried to eliminate racial considerations in college admissions that would result in increased slots for white students through their Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas suit.  After unsuccessfully using a white student (Ms. Fisher), in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University they decided to pit minorities against each other in order to eliminate racial considerations in admissions for all minorities. They used Asian students who were not admitted into Harvard to allege that the number of Asian Americans admitted was being limited by admitting other less qualified minorities. If that suit doesn’t work out, they also have the Student for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

Their Evenwel v. Abbott suit sought to change the way that voting districts are divided, using the number of “eligible voters” rather than the actual population of an area.  Because Congressional seats are assigned according to population, if they had won, areas with larger populations of children or ex-felons or other non-voters would lose representation in Congress because much of their population would simply no longer be counted, transferring voting power to rural districts with more “eligible voters”.  Though they lost, the Supreme Court did not completely close the door on future challenges.

My Black History Month Hero
Fighter for Protection Under the Law: My Dad


Rev. John H. Scott
My father first tried to register to vote in the late 40s. At first they couldn’t even find out where the registration office was. Then no one would tell them the registration requirements. They kept being told that their registration applications were incorrect. When they finally completed the application to the registrar’s satisfaction, they were told that they had to prove their identity (although the registrar who was a postman knew many of them by name) by being identified by a registered voter. Since all registered voters were white and no whites were allowed by the powers in the town to identify a Black person, no African Americans could ever get registered. My father and others in the town filed a lawsuit which the courts never bothered to hear so he finally wrote Washington and asked if he could testify at an upcoming hearing before the United States Commission on Civil Rights. After testifying at the hearing, the Justice Department got to see just what could be done to witnesses, and Robert Kennedy agreed to take my town’s case. (More details along with copies of court materials and articles HERE.) 

Voting Rights & Wrongs


 
TEXAS TRIES AGAIN TO REDUCE NON-WHITES VOTERS
Another lawsuit has been filed against Texas. The Texas Secretary of State claimed they found 95,000 non-citizens, as identified by the Texas Department of Transportation, registered to vote.  The lawsuit contends that naturalized citizens, which are 87% people of color, were targeted, even though they are eligible to vote.

GEORGIA
Another
lawsuit has been filed in Georgia. Fair Fight Georgia alleges that the Secretary of State Kemp, while running for governor, “grossly mismanaged” the election by not providing enough voting machines or making sure that the ones provided were functioning correctly. It seeks major reforms, including restoring preclearance, which was a requirement for pre-approval of voting rule changes before the Voting Rights Act was gutted.

UPDATES FROM LAST MONTH
GREAT NEWS! VOTING RIGHTS HIGH PRIORITY

The new Democratic-led House of Representative continues to make voting rights a top priority! A committee led by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) is charged with compiling a record of discrimination at the polls to be used to make informed decisions, including creating and justifying a new formula to require certain places to have to pre-clear all their voting changes. Hearings are being held this month in Ohio, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Texas.  

NC UPDATE
The NC 9th Congressional District election remains under investigation for illegal activity involving absentee ballots. A new State Board of Elections consisting of three Democrats and two Republicans has been appointed and evidence will be presented this month.  Four votes are required to order a new election. If they deadlock, the US House of Representatives could declare a vacancy, giving NC’s governor the power to schedule a new election. Interestingly, the Republican's Board representative is an African American who has been used in the past to negatively impact voting rights for NC African Americans. Using African Americans to deliver messaging designed to harm African Americans allows others to wash their hands of involvement in racial discrimination.
  
STRANGE CASE OF THE GEORGIA VOTING MACHINES
The lawsuit filed after it appeared that voting machines in Georgia failed to record any votes for possibly over 100,000 people in the Lt. Governor’s race has been dismissed.  The judge stayed discovery for more than a month and then only granted limited discovery for a week before the trial, and according to
The Daily Report, would not allow expert testimony on the inner workings of the voting machines. Access to machines was necessary to prove there had been a problem, but the Secretary of State’s office (the office of the person who had just run for Governor), refused to grant plaintiffs access in any way that would not compromise the data.
 

RACE, VOTING & CLASS: CAN WE TALK?


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  About Cleo
Cleo Scott Brown, author of Witness to the Truth, speaks nationally on race relations, black history, and voting rights, helping audiences connect the past with the present. She has also lived her subject, and like her father, who is the central figure in her book, she believes that her experiences have been for a greater purpose. Learn more about Cleo here.
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