This past week I attended two events focused on Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration. Dr. Edna Greene Medford, Chair of the History Department at Howard University, spoke at both events. Channeling the former slave, abolitionist, orator, writer, publisher, and statesman, Frederick Douglass, Medford connected the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s push for the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery and the 50th anniversary of the March on Selma that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As I listened, this refrain kept running through my mind. It has been 150 years since slavery was abolished and 50 years since discriminatory practices that suppressed minority voting were abolished. 150 years since slavery ended, 50 years since the law that prohibited voting discrimination. 150 years; 50 years.
And where are we now? In the 50 years since Selma we have moved forward back to the past. In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act on the basis that those portions were no longer needed. Supposedly racism and voter suppression were things of the distant past. No problem.
Except that within hours, yes, hours, of the decision, several states began proposing laws that did exactly what the Court had said no longer happens. The decision essentially said that since rain wasn’t getting into the house, you no longer needed a roof. In short order many states – you can easily guess which ones by controlling party affiliation – had enacted legislation that effectively suppressed the very voters supposedly no longer needed protection from suppression.
Voting is again being suppressed, and the pattern of suppression is designed to eliminate those voters who tend to vote against those doing the suppressing.
It’s been 150 years since slavery was abolished. It’s been 50 years since Selma. And here we are still fighting the same battles, the same discrimination, the same suppression.
Coincident with Medford’s discussion, President Obama and other civil rights leaders were in Selma commemorating a fateful Bloody Sunday that left so many marchers battered and bloodied. Obama have a speech that forcefully captured both the then…and the now.
Just how long do we all have to wait before we reach the “more perfect union” promised in the preamble of our Constitution? How long before the idea that all men and women are created equal comes to pass?
All I can say is that like the people who stood up for equal rights then, we must all stand up for equal rights now. A pitiful one-third of eligible voters actually went to the polls in 2014. One-third. If all voters voted, we can change the future. Without voting, we are relegating ourselves to a return to the past. The past that is once again our present.
It’s been 150 years since the 13th Amendment. It’s been 50 years since Selma. The future is ours to decide. Will you be able to tell your children you helped create the world they live in? Or would you be embarrassed to do so?
[Note: While this is a bit of a departure from my usual fare, the emotions I felt as the 150/50 ran over and over in my head needed expression.]
© David J. Kent 2015