Nelson Mandela was set free from being incarcerated twenty seven years in South Africa in 1990. Four years later he was elected as the first President of post-apartheid South Africa. The most fascinating images to emerge from South Africa around this time were photos of hundreds of thousand South Africans forming long lines to vote for the first time. There were long winding lines that seemed to stretch through fields and wrap around beautiful green hills. The people stood, in peace, to cast a ballot.
Even though not having been allowed to vote previously, somehow they knew that their future had been place in their own hands. Here in the United States the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in December 1865. The 13th Amendment brought about a Constitutional end to chattel enslavement of Africans in the United States. One must understand that African enslavement was still the law of the land when the Civil War ended. If the 13th Amendment had not been ratified, what would have been the prospect for freedom in a country that had grown weary of war? One of the arguments against ratification of the 13th Amendment was that if the Africans were set free, the next thing to follow was giving them the right to vote. What was so powerful about the ballot that many Whites feared sharing it with Blacks in the United States? After the 14th Amendment granted equal protection of the laws, the 15th Amendment was added to the Constitution providing for the vote not to be denied to anyone on account of race. The 15th Amendment effectively granted Black men the right to vote. Black women did not receive the right to vote until all women were granted the right to vote fifty years later with ratification of the 19th Amendment.
Civil Rights have been a major concern in this since the inception of this country. Although it is not reflected in the pre-Amended Constitution which upheld the institution of African enslavement, many who stood outside of the process realized that a great injustice had been perpetrated. Therein lies the long march to contribute to the formation of a more perfect union by providing all America’s inhabitants with civil rights. As a consequence, the 1960s became the most ironic decade. Ninety five years after Black men were granted the constitutional right to vote and forty five years after Black women received the constitutional right to vote, Black Americans found themselves struggling for the right to vote.
What had transpired in the 95 year history of expanding the franchise that caused the need for Black Americans to take to the streets simply to demand the right to vote? It is a history that has been taught to us. It is a history that has been portrayed in movies and documentaries. It is a history that I have expounded upon within my own classroom. My lectures would ring hollow if such content were to be omitted. Many African Americans who have been convicted of felonies can no longer vote even after they have been released from prison. Just think of the hundreds of thousand Black Americans who are currently incarcerated who will not be allowed to vote. Literacy laws were passed to keep Black people from voting. Black people lived in fear of being lynched simply for attempting to vote. Poll taxes were used in order to deny Blacks the right to vote. All these forms of voter disenfranchisement led to passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Nevertheless, attempts to deny Black people in America access to the ballot did not cease with passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Mandela’s election to become President of South African was a monumental election. The 2008 election of Barack Obama to become President of the United States was a monumental election also. Shortly after the election of Barack Obama to be President, Republican controlled states began passing so called “voter I.D. laws” which they claimed were needed in order to suppress voter fraud. What these laws were attempting to suppress was the Black vote. One of the most recent and egregious assaults on the Black vote came in the Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder 2013. In this decision, the Supreme Court struck down a major provision of the Voting Rights Act as being unconstitutional. This decision contributed too many states feeling emboldened to pass additional laws to restrict Black participation at the polls. I reiterate my earlier question. What is it about voting that makes many Republicans want to keep Blacks from voting. Even the current Republican nominee for President has alluded to election being rigged. Such an accusation only plays to the more extreme elements of American society that see the Black vote as being a fraudulent vote.
Early on in American politics southern Democrats attempted to keep the franchise from African Americans. Republicans have taken up this cause in more recent elections. Nevertheless, of all the barriers that are constructed to keep Blacks from voting, the most detrimental is the willingness of Africans and people of color simply not to vote. The Klan could not have instituted a more master plan to keep Black people from voting than the decision of Blacks themselves simply not to vote. At this late junction some Black people say they are confused over the choice between a Donald Trump and a Hillary Clinton. This false equivalency baffles me. There is nothing in Hillary Clinton’s history that places her in the same racist category as Donald Trump. In this election, a Black person deciding not to vote is equivalent to a Black person voting for Donald Trump which equivalent to a Black person voting for George Wallace, Lester Maddox, “Bull” Connor in the 1960s. Insanely enough, some polls show that even David Duke has some Black support. Why would some Black people nullify the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments? Why would some Black people rescind the King Holliday? Why so some Black people disavow Barack Obama and Black Lives Matter? Why do some people say Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, and Sand Bland brought it upon themselves to be killed? Why do some Black people deny themselves the right to vote?
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”