Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Food for thought


Election day at last. The lines in my little community have been long, much longer than I ever remember. My wife talked to an older lady who has lived on the island all her life. She said that the lady can't remember a voter turnout such as this. Even though there is a long wait, the turnout makes the feeling that we are on the verge of an historical moment even more exciting.

All of this got me thinking about the right to vote and how so many people take it for granted in this country.

The island that I live on is predominantly African-American in terms of demographics. It is one of the remaining Gullah settlements in the region. So I did a little research on voting rights for African-Americans in this country. Here are some of the facts that I found:
  • Blacks actually didn't have the right to vote at the end of the Civil War. Southern states put together governments excluding Blacks from voting.
  • In March 1866, angry leaders of the United States Congress passed a civil rights bill saying a citizen in the United States is anyone born in the United States, except Native Americans. The bill also guaranteed equal rights to all citizens no matter what race, and allowed the federal government to step in when the states failed to protect those rights.
  • About a month later, the legislature issued the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It stated that all people who were born in the United States, including African-Americans, are considered natural citizens and have the same rights as all other Americans. It also prohibited any state from making or enforcing any laws that took away or hurt an individual’s civil rights.
  • In 1867 and 1868, the southern state constitutions during this period favored Blacks and gave them voting rights without the earlier voting rules. They could also hold public office. This equality didn't last long. The Ku Klux Klan formed in the South to threaten Blacks and take away their power.
  • From the 1870's through most of the 1900's, Blacks were blocked from voting by threats of violence, being made to take reading and writing tests (some Blacks couldn't read or write so they couldn't pass the tests), and many other voting rules designed to keep Blacks from voting. Some states passed laws that required people to pay a poll tax before voting. This tax did not involve a large amount of money, but many blacks (and poor whites) either could not or would not pay it.
  • It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon Johnson over 100 years after the Civil War ended, that it became illegal to stop Blacks from voting. Blacks were finally guaranteed their voting rights in 1965.
I'm grateful that on this day that the times have changed from repression to renewal.

I'm grateful that I have a room full of books and resources where I can check facts, be informed, and grasp what freedom truly means in terms of the Constitution.

I'm grateful for being able to have my own opinions about something without fear of reprisal.

I'm grateful that there is a feeling of hope and change in the air.

I'm grateful that the healing after a long divisive campaign can begin.

17 comments:

  1. Your post is a beautiful reminder of the blessings we possess by living in such a wonderful country. The vote is so very important.

    I have always believed and still do that God blesses America. I have turned my life over to the care of God and the outcome of this election as well. I trust that in the long run all will turn out well for all of us. I pray that God keeps his loving hand on the U.S.A.

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  2. Thanks for reminding me of our history of unfairness.

    Today is a miraculous day.

    I wish Martin Luther King Jr. were here to see it.

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  3. Wow! Thank you for the grateful history, I learned a few things on your post today and have shared them. Thank you!!! I am very grateful to be where I am today and grateful for the ability to vote!
    Gabi

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  4. I'm also grateful for a new generation that is open-minded, plugged in and passionate about their future!

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  5. You're so smart, Syd. Glad to have you on the blog roll;)

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  6. "I'm grateful for being able to have my own opinions about something without fear of reprisal."
    You are so lucky. I have to stuff everything...the other side hates me. We can't wear t-shirts or buttons without fear. I don't know if I will be able to bear it.

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  7. I am grateful for Democracy!!!

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  8. 1965. Ouch.
    Almost as bad as the year it became a criminal act to rape ones wife. over here it was 1992. Jeez. amazing.
    the case was
    R v R (Rape: Marital Exemption) [1992] 1 A.C. 599
    Husband is guilty of rape if wife does not consent. Before this decision marriage meant consent to sexual intercourse. regardless.

    Scary huh?
    thank god we are slowly moving out of the dark ages. on loads of different fronts. oppressions are an insult to individual autonomy. i will be glad when the justifications for the residual inequities dissolve due to scrutiny by the collective group conscience of the voting public.
    its quite exiting all this politics stuff isnt it? I hope there is a change for the better on the cards. whatever form it may take.

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  9. Hi Syd,

    Great history lesson! Just a small reminder from a female voice - - - don't forget us! We women were the LAST in the nation to earn the right to vote!

    I am woman, hear me roar!

    I am very happy the election is over - no matter who wins.

    I am also very proud to be an American, where my opinion may differ from others, and still be accepted!

    Anonymous #1

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  10. I don't remember ever being so excited to vote or that my vote was so important. I didn't care who was voting for whom, I was just thrilled that so many people cared enough to get out there and vote. It was like a huge, country wide party. With free coffee, donuts, icecream and chicken (none of which I bothered to get).

    Obama Won!

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  11. A change for the better, let's hope.

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  12. Anonymous #1, you are right about the chronology; however, the execution of the right to vote was somewhat different than you stated.

    When the constitution was amended after the civil war, the 14th amendment gave all persons the right to vote. This meant all men. Women in that time were not considered their own person, they were property of their husbands or fathers.

    Since that time women started standing up for their rights. Women were given the right to vote in 1920: however black men were still fighting for their right to vote since southern states passed laws taking most rights that black men were given in 1868 away from them. It was only in 1965 when congress passed a law signed by President Lyndon Johnson (Voting Rights Act of 1965) making it illegal to keep black men from voting. So yes black MEN were given the right to vote first; however some women were able to exercise their right to vote before the blacks were.

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  13. Thanks for this. We are moving toward even more equal ground. But there is an area still open, that of gay marriage. I hope eventually we will be considered equals like everyone else.

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  14. Gratitude's abound!!!!

    I heard an interview with a 109 year old black woman from Texas, when she was old enough to vote she had to pick enough extra cotton to pay the poll tax. What an awesome thing to live to see that much historic change in one life time!

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  15. Good friends of ours used to have an interesting neighbor.

    Some big wig from the KKK lived across the street from them in Shelton, CT.

    Sickening.

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