By Chuck Hobbs Hobbservation Point
To me, true courage is on display in the picture above, one that shows a determined group of righteous men and women marching down the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama toward the arbiters of government repression—the Alabama State Police—knowing full well that they were going to take a vicious beating at best—or get shot and killed at worst. And yet, they marched, steadily, onward, to their fate!
Those who marched and were savagely beaten 57 years ago today are as crucial to American history as the patriots killed during the Boston Massacre—if not more! Why do I say more? I say so because those marchers, led by the late Rev. Hosea Williams and future Georgia Congressman John Lewis (RIP), were fighting to force America out of its rank hypocrisy of claiming to be a nation of laws in which liberty, justice, and equality were its highest ideals—all the while denying those ideals to millions of its Black citizens.
Now, it is important to know that some Blacks in some parts of the country were able to get past the myriad impediments to Black voting en masse, but the frustrating truth is that no matter how much Black blood was spilled on foreign soil to “make the world safe for Democracy,” as President Woodrow Wilson once said about World War I, and no matter how many courageous Black men, like Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, or fiercely determined Black women like Mary Church Terrell, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Ida B. Wells, or the young women of the then newly formed Delta Sigma Theta Sorority argued for Black access to the ballot, the same was repeatedly thwarted by Jim Crow loving whites who understood that Black social, economic, and political progress all hinged in large measure upon the right to vote!
So it was that by 1965, after nearly a decade of sustained non-violent resistance by Black activist groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee had led to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that even that game changing piece of legislation rang rather hollow without Blacks being able to vote. Thus, the push for the Voting Rights Act, led by Dr. Martin Luther King of the SCLC, one that was slow in gaining traction in Congress due to the hard hearted intransigence of Southern Dixiecrat leaders. As the late Gen. Colin Powell would later note about his time serving as a young Army officer stationed at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, “the Army was becoming more democratic, but I was plunged back into the Old South every time I left the post. I could go into the Woolworth’s in Columbus and buy anything I wanted, as long as I did not try to eat there. I could go into a department store and they would take my money, as long as I did not try to use the men’s room. I could walk along the street as long as I did not look at a white woman.”
Thus, as Blacks gained greater access to public accomodations due to the Civil Rights Act, the right to vote was still an exercise in futility. That exercise became less futile 57 years ago today, when the entire nation—and the world—saw white police officers and vigilantes in Selma beat peaceful American citizens bloody simply because they clamored for Black voting rights!
When President Johnson made good on his promise to Dr. King and his colleagues by signing the Voting Rights Act a few months later, the legislation purported to end poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and other chicanery that had been used for nearly 100 years to prevent Blacks from voting.
But today, 57 years later, the descendants of the old Southern Dixiecrats, now proud Republicans nationwide, are pushing once more to dilute or completely neutralize Black voting power.
(Depicted below are the Dixiecrat’s Republican descendants claiming that the 2020 election in Georgia was “stolen” because of high Black turnout that led to the election of President Joe Biden and Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff)
Yes, the old grandfather clauses have been replaced by laws that limit hours of operations at the polls (including the highly popular “Souls to the Polls” event led by Black churches), restrict absentee ballot usage, and prevent voters from carrying food and water with them while standing for hours in line. The old literacy tests have been replaced by so-called “election integrity laws” that are nothing of the sort, as they find lawful voters in good standing dropped from the voter rolls with little to no notice. Poll taxing has been replaced by identification laws that force people to have two or three forms of identification just to cast a ballot, a factor that poses a hardship on poorer people who cannot afford the $50 or more that it takes to get such cards in some states.
Indeed, the preceding paragraph is simply proof that there is nothing new under the sun, or to quote my favorite line from William Faulkner, “...in the South, the past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” I will add that it’s not just the South, but across America, because as more and more Blacks have voted since 2008 and turned the tide in presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial races to a diverse array of Democratic candidates, the primarily homogeneous white Republican leadership continues to conjure up ways to offset this numerical advantage.
Such is why we commemorate those who marched and bled on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, and such is why we honor those marchers by pushing back against voter suppression in its modern forms!
Originally published by Hobbservation Point.