Marc Ash: African America to the Rescue
African America to the Rescue
By Marc Ash
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 28 October 2004
Well here we are again, broke down and miles from nowhere. Every day eventually turns into night and we're in the dark part of it now. I often wonder, if it were not for African Americans would we have any civil rights at all? They're the only ones who will fight for them. Most Americans love to talk about freedom. They say they're willing to fight and die for it. I have my doubts, when they won't even vote for it.
It's ironic that white intimidators used to administer literacy tests to African Americans before allowing them to vote. If anyone needs to pass a voter's test, it would be the folks planning to vote in policies that will hurt them. For some reason, every four years, the vast majority of American voters line up on opposite sides of the field like it was a sporting event and forgo the facts in favor of the contest. They adopt positions that have about as much to do with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as filing for unemployment does. Test failed.
For, whatever reason, African Americans won't vote against their own best interests. No matter how much you try to convince them, it's like trying to get a cat to take a bath. We often hear that, "our nation is deeply divided." Whose nation? Not the African American nation - they know perfectly well who to vote for. They will vote for freedom and liberty and they'll kick down the door to do it if necessary.
In the early 1960s, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his march to freedom, the journalists of the day marveled that there were "white people joining him too!" They shouldn't have been so surprised. If you truly cared about the bill of rights, it was the only game in town. African American leaders of the day like Dr. King were the only ones who would speak out in favor of human and civil rights. White leaders, short of John Kennedy, wouldn't even touch it. The massive anti-Vietnam War movement was built on the foundation laid by the civil rights movement. But it was the African Americans who led the way in the early going.
To be fair, African Americans were not fighting for principle but rather, often, for their lives. The one hundred years that had passed since reconstruction had changed very little in the deep south. Harassment, intimidation, economic reprisals, and physical violence awaited African Americans attempting to register or vote. It worked. In 1960, when forty two percent of Mississippi's population was African American, only two percent were registered to vote.
Things were about to change. In 1960 John F. Kennedy ran in part on the promise of a civil rights act. He would be slain a year before The Civil Rights Act of 1964 came to pass. In 1961 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., working with the The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), began a series of marches, actions and rallies that did what they were intended to do: attract the attention of high minded whites. That too worked. In addition to the civil rights act, 1964 saw a determined Lyndon Johnson, never known as a civil rights champion before, lay out his plan for a "Great Society." It included the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Johnson won the loyalty of African American voters for the Democratic party but drove the southern white voters away, opening the door for a white-Republican alliance that dominates the south to this day.
Dr. King, for his part, drove home the importance of voting time and again as a cornerstone of African American progress. He predicted that voting would bring political power to the African American community. It did. Over the years the African American vote has become both crucial and coveted. In fact, the African American vote would have been the margin for victory in the U.S. presidential election in 2000, had the votes been counted.
Some Things Never Change
The idea of an African American voting still strikes fear in the hearts of many Americans. The notion that such irrational fear only existed in the deep south is another myth. What's happening today in Cleveland, Ohio is not very different from what happened in Birmingham, Alabama in 1960. The violence is muted but intimidation and exclusion are still fair game.
On Tuesday, America will be faced with the daunting task of reclaiming its democratic process by electoral means. Lucky for America, those who have the most experience in the struggle are once again at the center of it. Indeed, once again it's African America to the rescue. They will need the support of their neighbors, now more than ever.
"It's been a long time comin'."