Since the end of slavery in the US, increases in Black Voter Turnout have led to a white backlash. Black voter turnout during the Reconstruction era of the 1870s lead to the emergence of large numbers of African American elected officials in the American South. This black political power was viewed as such a threat to white America, that it lead to organized white terror campaigns of murder, lynching, voter intimidation, voter suppression, and a new legal system of American Apartheid or Jim Crow. That Post- Reconstruction initiated backlash reversed all of the gains of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution and even came close to reversing the gains of the Emancipation Proclamation. The wholesale disenfranchisement of black voters lasted approximately 90 years.
Black Voter Turnout Increases After Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, a product of nationwide African American mass activism and struggle, ushered in a new era for African Americans and lead to a systematic increase in black voter turnout. The 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and continued enforcement of Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act paved the way once again for large increases in African American elected officials. The amended Voting Rights Act was key to the ability of black voters to elect candidates of their choice to office because the litigation following those amendments forced changes in redistricting and allowed for the creation of political districts in which African American voters were the majority.
Black Voter Turnout Leads to White Backlash Again
The systematic efforts by white Republicans after the US 2020 Presidential election to invalidate victories in states where Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won with a large Black Voter Turnout is sending a clear and unmistakable message to African American voters. We don’t want your votes to count. Donald Trump won a majority of the white vote after white nationalist leaders shifted their focus and resources from protest to electoral politics. Biden/Harris won a majority of the non-white vote – built upon a huge black voter turnout. Consequently, the logic of the Trump argument, backed by a base of 70 million white voters, and supported by white Republican elected officials from Coast to Coast, and from the city council to Congress, is that only elections which were decided by a majority of white voters should count. The others are fraudulent, invalid, and should be tossed out.
While, at first read, one might conclude that we are being extremist in our analysis, the facts tell quite another story. The facts at the initial time of this writing, Tuesday, November 17th, 2020, are that white Republican elected officials are taking concrete steps which, if successful, would disenfranchise huge chunks of African American voters after the fact. This is totally separate from the systematic efforts over a period of several years to erect impediments to the right and ability of African American voters to cast their votes.
Two white Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers (Detroit) refused to certify the vote totals in that county where Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won decisive victories over Donald Trump and Mike Pence due to Detroit’s large black voter turnout. Their refusal forced a deadlock on the County Board of Canvassers. That news sparked a national outcry and was covered in Breaking News segments on all major news outlets. By 9:45 pm Eastern time (Tuesday November 17th 2020), those two members of the canvassing board were forced to reverse themselves and allow the certification of Detroit’s votes. The later decision does not erase the fact that their effort was squarely aimed at invalidating the votes of African American voters in the City of Detroit. The objective was to make Donald Trump the winner of the Michigan Presidential election by removing the votes of hundreds of thousands of African Americans from the certified vote totals.
African American Voting Rights in the US
As blatant as their attempt was, it was not an isolated incident. Georgia’s Secretary of State, himself a conservative white Republican, confessed to news outlets that Trump supported and South Carolina’s US Senator, Lindsay Graham, tried to suggest to him in a telephone conversation that he should find a way to throw out some ballots in Georgia. Like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Biden/Harris won Georgia due to an overwhelming black voter turnout. This huge mobilization of African Americans and other voters of color was a result of a sustained, multi-year voter mobilization effort led by Stacey Abrams and a coalition of activists groups within the American South and across the country. Similar mobilizations of African American voters in Philadelphia and Milwaukee led to Biden/Harris victories in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Such efforts played out in courtrooms and state elections offices as part of the final vestiges of the racist demagogue Donald Trump’s efforts to hang onto power by any means necessary.
Our conclusion about the votes of African Americans is based on these efforts and the consistent pattern of racist claims and actions made by Donald Trump. Leading up to the 2016 election, Trump used as the basis for his Presidential campaign his racist claim that President, Barak Obama, the only African American President to date, was not a real American. Also, Trump’s victory was based, in part, on foreign intelligence efforts to trick thousands of African American voters in those same cities not to vote.
Shelby V. Holder Decision Guts Voting Rights Act
Earlier in the decade (2013), the US Supreme Court in the Shelby v Holderdecision paved the way for the wholesale disenfranchisement and re-subjugation of African American voters, especially in the American South. The Shelby decision essentially invalidated the pre-clearance provision of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Under Section 5, jurisdictions in predominantly African American areas of the US, especially in the Deep South, were prohibited from making any voting changes unless such changes were pre-cleared either by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice or by the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
Goal of Rolling Back Voting Rights Act is to Decrease Black Voter Turnout
In the immediate 5 years after Shelby (Alabama), over 1000 polling places in predominantly African American counties were closed, leading to reduced black voter turnout. “But looking deeper, it might be even more appropriate to say that the Shelby County v. Holder decision committed violence against the Fourteenth Amendment itself, of which the Voting Rights Act is a distant descendant.” In many of the jurisdictions which prior to Shelby could not make any voting changes without having them precleared, voting became rapidly more difficult after the Shelby County decision. This has been especially true for poor and elderly black people and Latinos.
African American Voting Rights History
These recent developments are not the only basis upon which we make the claim that African Americans can cast no votes which white America is bound to respect. The explosion of African American voting in the Deep South following the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments led to significant numbers of African Americans being elected at all levels of government. This period of Reconstruction produced a similar white backlash. The emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and other white domestic terrorist groups had as their sole purpose turning back the clock of history to a time when white elected leadership was unchallenged in the South. At that time, in addition to being responsible for the election of significant numbers of African Americans to high office and positions of power, the African American vote had emerged as the potential balance of power between the political parties.
Because of the emerging reality of black political power, between the years 1890 and 1910, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, and Oklahoma all had passed laws to disenfranchise African Americans. Black voter turnout had clearly been identified by white Americans as a threat to continued white supremacy. Most of these laws were so-called Grandfather clauses that invalidated African American voters based upon pre Reconstruction voter rolls dating back to the Civil War.
The results speak for themselves. During Reconstruction (roughly 1867 to 1877, a total of 2000 African Americans held elective office. These included those African Americans elected to local government offices all the way up to those elected to the US Congress. However, by 1902, not a single African American sat in a single state or federal legislature. George H W White (US Representative NC 2nd congressional district March 4, 1897 – March 3, 1901) was the last African American to serve in Congress during this period. After the passage of legislation disfranchising black voters, he said the following.
“It is an undisputed fact that the negro vote in the State of Alabama, as well as most of the other Southern States, have been effectively suppressed, either one way or the other–in some instances by constitutional amendment and State legislation, in others by cold-blooded fraud and intimidation, but whatever the method pursued, it is not denied, but frankly admitted in the speeches in this House, that the black vote has been eliminated to a large extent.”
White was the last black member of Congress for twenty-eight years, and the last black Southerner in the body until 1973. North Carolina did not see another African-American in congress until Eva Clayton and Mel Watt took their seats in 1992 and 1993, respectively. In his farewell address to Congress, White said the following:
This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised, and bleeding, but God-fearing people, faithful, industrious, loyal people–rising people, full of potential force.
On March 4, 1901, at the moment that White’s term formally ended, white legislators in Raleigh celebrated. North Carolina Democrat A. D. Watts announced:
George H. White, the insolent negro…has retired from office forever. And from this hour on no negro will again disgrace the old State in the council of chambers of the nation. For these mercies, thank God.”
We will not let this happen again! Attempts by white America to deny African Americans the right to vote, elect candidates of our own choosing to serve our communities, and affect public policy decisions that govern our communities is the single most important issue which has the potential to galvanize the African American consciousness. If white America wants the United States of America to remain a so-called democratic, pluralistic society, then it must cease and desist all efforts geared towards disenfranchising African Americans of their right to vote. Continue with the efforts to take away the right of African Americans to vote and be an equal player in this society and you will have no one to blame for the consequences than your very selves!
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