Looking back at minorities' fight to have the right to vote

Posted at 6:38 AM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 09:38:45-04

Black men and other minorities have chanted, marched, fought and bled not against America, but to be included in and gain access to the very cornerstone of American democracy: the right to vote.

From the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, after slavery and the civil war, Black men could actually vote, and wasted no time flexing their new political muscle.

"Almost immediately Black men became elected officials, right away," said Roy Tatem, President of the East Valley NAACP.

At the time he says Black men were elected to high office, including congressmen and senators, but it was short-lived, especially for those in the South.

"There were White men that literally said, 'I refuse to be governed by a Black man,'" Tatem said.

And they would resort to anything, he said, to crush the Black vote, including violence.

"Many took up arms. It was literally armed sedition to remove some of these black elected officials," Tatem said.

This led to the age of Jim Crow, and states began to employ other tactics to disenfranchise the Black vote, like charging a poll tax or fee, and making people pass impossible literacy tests.

"Counting beans in a jar, counting pennies in a jar, making someone recite a line from the Declaration of Independence," Arizona State University African American Studies Professor Rashad Shabazz explained.

"Or my favorite," said Tatem. "How many bubbles on a bar of soap? That was a literal voting rights question...How many bubbles in a bar of soap."

And the violence continued.

"If you were trying to register to vote, your name and address could be printed in the newspaper for some nefarious people in the community that rode around in white sheets, to come pay you a visit," Tatem said.

"And I can't reiterate enough how important White mob violence was, particularly in the form of lynching," Shabazz said.

It wasn't until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s where Black leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the late US Congressman John Lewis finally opened the eyes of Americans.

"We saw what happened on 'Bloody Sunday,' that March Sunday when John Lewis and a host of others were beaten on the Edmond Pettis Bridge in Selma Alabama," Tatem said.

Then came the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

And that brings us to today, Tatem said.

"The biggest voter suppression tactic now is misinformation," he said.

Shabazz points to other laws now in place plaguing Black, Latin and Native communities right here in Arizona.

"Voter ID laws that require some sort of state or federal identification really put LatinX communities, Mexican American communities, and other communities at risk," Shabazz said.

Fewer polling places also play a role.

"You're going to have long lines, people are going to be discouraged," Tatem said.

Both men spoke on the newest controversy highlighted by the White House, which is mail-in voting.

"They're underfunding the postal service to create delays in mail-in voting," Shabazz said

"During the pandemic, it's common sense to allow people to vote by mail. Many have been voting by mail successfully for years," Tatem said.

Both Shabazz and Tatem also spoke about the women's suffrage movement and other struggles to gain the right to vote. They wanted to stress to younger voters who may not feel they are represented by the candidates in either party, that they should still exercise their right to vote, if for nothing else, to connect to the struggle of the men and women before them who fought, and in some cases died, for them to have the right to cast their ballot.