Jun. 29, 2021

Black Voter Suppression Has Always Been America’s Focus

“Upon every side in [Georgia], the indications are clear, that the snake, Rebellion, has been only scotched there, and not killed.” The legislator Abram Colby reported that one night in October 1869 thirty disguised men had come to his home. “They broke my door open, took me out of bed, took me to the woods and whipped me three hours or more and left me for dead. They said to me, ‘Do you think you will ever vote another damned Radical ticket?’ I said, ‘I will not tell you a lie.’ I supposed they would kill me anyhow. I said, ‘If there was an election tomorrow, I would vote the Radical ticket.’ They set in and whipped me a thousand licks more, with sticks and straps that had buckles on the ends of them.”

And finally, now, to-day, when we are awakening to the fact that the perpetuity of republican institutions on this continent depends on the purification of the ballot, the civic training of voters, and the raising of voting to the plane of a solemn duty which a patriotic citizen neglects to his peril and to the peril of his children’s children,—in this day, when we are striving for a renaissance of civic virtue, what are we going to say to the black voter of the South? Are we going to tell him still that politics is a disreputable and useless form of human activity? Are we going to induce the best class of Negroes to take less and less interest in government, and to give up their right to take such an interest, without a protest? I am not saying a word against all legitimate efforts to purge the ballot of ignorance, pauperism, and crime. But few have pretended that the present movement for disfranchisement in the South is for such a purpose; it has been plainly and frankly declared in nearly every case that the object of the disfranchising laws is the elimination of the black man from politics.
WEB Dubois

Many thought of the election of Barack Obama, not as the end of racism, but certainly as a turning point. And it was. But for many, President Obama's election was a turning point in a different direction. It spurred a backlash among white supremacists invested in maintaining the status quo.

It can be no coincidence that the carnage of the Voting Rights Act so central to the Shelby decision occurred during the presidency of our first-ever Black president. It is no coincidence that in the decade since Obama's election, voter suppression has gained more momentum, velocity, and animosity than it had in the previous three elections combined. Since Shelby County v. Holder, voter suppression has taken on more pervasive and pernicious forms than ever before.

Karine Jean-Pierre