By: Richard Andrew
As I watch the TV and see what looked like a successful rally, I start to remember where I was on that day 50 years ago. I saw myself a young man getting ready to strike out on my own. I was to start my senior year in in a Tampa, FL high school. I thought about the changes in my life from then until now. I had witnessed racism in that southern town that haunts me to this day because I am white I was able to drink from any water fountain or visit any restroom I wanted. We had just started integrating my high school and both black and white races were dealing with the issues of the racism during those difficult times.
What were the big changes that took place, I thought to myself? What had improved in the lives of my black brothers and sisters?
The spectacle had begun. It was certainly living up to its billing. As Maria Lokke and Johnny Simon reported it that day: Thousands gathered at the National Mall Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Speakers including Martin Luther King III and Democratic Rep. John Lewis, who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 march, encouraged the crowd to continue fighting for social justice. Attorney General Eric Holder kicked off the celebration, acknowledging the work of civil rights leaders from the Martin Luther King, Jr. era.
“But for them, I would not be Attorney General of the United States and Barack Obama would not President of the United States of America,” Holder said.
Everything seemed to be going to plan until I had one of those moments in life where everything seems to hit you in the head at once. I asked myself, are African-Americans better off today then they were 50 years ago. In light of what the Tea Party has done to our first African-American President and certain black members of Congress, this writer is not so sure.
According to an article from “Booker Rising,” a black conservative news site, called NAACP Resolution Condemns The Tea Party Movement For Alleged Racism: Bookerista Response, Wayne Bradley, himself a conservative Republican and Tea Party activist in Detroit, wrote:
“As a lifetime member of the NAACP, I was severely disturbed and disappointed by the resolution condemning ‘bigoted elements’ of the Tea Party movement.”
In the same article, a New York Republican, Deroy Murdock, said “I condemn the NAACP. I condemn it because I still am waiting to see video footage and/or hear audio tape to prove their repeated accusations that Tea Party activists hurled ‘racial epithets’ at Representative John Lewis (D-GA) and other black members of Congress just before the House of Representatives’ final votes on ObamaCare. Those congressmen were surrounded by TV cameras, radio news recorders, plus cell phone cameras, amateur video cameras, video-equipped digital cameras, etc. How did NONE of those high-tech devices manage to capture anybody lobbing racial insults at these black congressmen?”
Do I remember that? How could I forget Rep. Lewis trying to cover his head and protect his friends from things of all sizes being thrown in their direction, while their white colleagues looked on and did nothing. It didn’t look any different from 63’, 64’, and beyond.
I also thought about the Voting Rights Act that was passed just two years after the march being memorialized on this day. In an article by Hans A. von Spakovsky, called, The Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s Decision in Shelby County, he explained quite clearly what the Supreme Court of this United States of America, managed to take away the most sacred right of our democracy. These men of questionable integrity took the very thing from African-Americans that they fought so hard to get. They took away their right to vote to vote.
Mr. von Spakovsky concluded that: Section 5 was an unprecedented, extraordinary intrusion into state sovereignty since it required covered states to get the approval of the federal government for voting changes made by state and local officials – either the Department of Justice or a three-judge court in the District of Columbia. No other federal law presumes that states cannot govern themselves as their legislatures decide and must have the federal government’s consent before they act. As the Supreme Court said, Section 5 “employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem.”
Furthermore, he added, Section 5 was necessary in 1965 because of the widespread, official discrimination that prevented black Americans from registering and voting as well as the constant attempts by local jurisdictions to evade federal court decrees. The disfranchisement rate was so bad that only 27.4 percent of blacks were registered in Georgia in 1964 and only 6.7 percent in Mississippi, compared to white registration of 62.6 percent and 69.9 percent, respectively. That disparity between black and white registration (and turnout) was a direct result of the horrendous discrimination suffered by black residents of those states.
It seems that the Court, according to John Schwartz in his article Between the Lines of the Voting Rights Act Opinion, Chief Justice Roberts opens his opinion by stating that “the Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem,” using the “strong medicine” of applying heavy requirements on some states and not others to fight suppression of voting rights. He then suggests that those rules have outlived their usefulness.
In her dissenting opinion from Justice Ginsberg, who was a civil rights lawyer specializing in gender issues before joining the Supreme Court, writes a strongly worded dissent. While her fellow justices believe the “very success” of the act “demands its dormancy,” she notes that Congress “was of another mind” and had reauthorized the act repeatedly.
Before the ink could dry on the Supreme Court’s decision, the states of Texas and North Carolina proceeded to pass the most draconian voting laws since they were stopped in 1965. The state Republican/Tea Party legislatures made sure that voting for minorities and students was going to be darn near impossible. The battle is raging now on voting rights, it seems to this writer, even more dastardly that in 1965.
It must be obvious to most folks of color that a lot has changed yet, a lot is still the same. The Republican Party is working through Republican state legislatures to “cook the books” for the next mid-term elections.
They are dismantling the voting laws in as many states as they hold legislative control in. They don’t care if it is legal or not. They just want to win as many seats as they can in the next Congress. US Attorney General and President Obama are taking the fight to this racist movement. Maybe in another 50 years my grandchildren will see some real change in the way people of color are treated.