Reminders Of How Far We Have Yet To Go: #4

 In Social Commentary

The Civil War ended in 1865 with a victory for the Union and an even bigger victory for the nation’s 3.9 million slaves— freedom. Two years later, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 that enabled former male slaves and poor white men to vote and run for office. (Women did not get the vote until 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment.)

The percentage of Black men who were registered to vote at the beginning of 1867 was just 0.5%. So, activists fanned out across the south, holding registration drives in churches, school yards, and in some instances, using plays and theatrical presentations to encourage Black men to register. By the end of that year, a whopping 80.5% of freed Black men were registered to vote. This extraordinary voter registration drive became known as “Registration Summer.”

The result was that hundreds of thousands of former slaves voted in state elections across the south. In 1870, Hiram Revels became the first African American to serve in Congress. Fourteen Black men served in the House of Representatives between 1869 and 1877, six served as lieutenant governors, and more than 600 served in southern state legislatures.

Then came voter suppression in the form of Jim Crow oppression, violence, and fraudulent claims of widespread voter fraud. By 1877, voting by Black men plummeted.

Today, little has changed. Republican governors and state legislatures have implemented new laws restricting when, where, and how people could vote — laws that disproportionately harmed students, the poor, and people of color. For example, in North Carolina, a GOP legislature approved a law that eliminated same-day voter registration, cut a full week of early voting, barred voters from casting a ballot outside their home precincts, scrapped straight-ticket voting, and got rid of a program to pre-register high school students who would turn 18 by Election Day.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.

And in 2017, Trump created his Voter Integrity Commission to investigate voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election, despite the fact that in-person voter fraud is so rare that statistically speaking, it doesn’t exist.

One hundred and fifty years later, voter suppression is back—on steroids.