Black History Month Focuses on Voter Rights, Suppression

    Monrovia Duarte Black Alumni Association to hold a lecture on Voting Rights this Saturday

    African Americans and the Vote is the theme for this year’s Black History Month, a topical subject for an election year.

    Appropriately, the theme coincides with the 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment. The 15th Amendment, which stated no citizen would be denied a vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” was meant to guarantee the vote to Black men after the American Civil War and the abolishment of slavery. Nevertheless, many state-level discriminatory measures — such as polling taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation tactics — were enacted and successfully disenfranchised black voters. Many states, particularly in the South, would have one-party control by the Democratic Party for decades as a result of black voter suppression.

    The depth of this disenfranchisement is exemplified by Alabama in 1965, where only 2% of registered voters were African Americans despite making up half the population. To fight these injustices, Alabama became the site of several clashes where peaceful protesters demanding protection for their voting rights were met with violence by state troopers.

    Alabama police awaiting demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. – Courtesy photo

    When protesters tried to initiate a march in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, they were pushed back by troopers, beaten, and tear gassed. Known as Bloody Sunday, the outrage from this day led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    According to the United States Department of Justice, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is “the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress.” The numbers of African American voters registered jumped after drastically the Act. One quarter of a million new black voters would be registered by the end of 1965 according to National Park Service.

    It also meant a drastic change in leadership and the political landscape. No longer would the southern states be dominated by one party.

    Turnout by race in 2018. -Photo courtesy of United States Election Project

    Despite this, turnout for voters of racial minorities continues struggling to keep up with white voter turnout to this day.

    Today, issues with accessibility of polling places, particularly for older voters, are a concern.

    “There used to be polling places in their neighborhood. Now, they’ve changed that, and they don’t have any transportation,” said Monrovia Duarte Black Alumni Association (MDBAA) Chairperson Barbara Gholar.

    According to Gholar, other obstacles are photo ID requirements and a general excess modification to rules and regulations.

    Such new regulations came after the Shelby Counter v. Holder Supreme Court case ruling in 2013 which struck down a provision in the Voting Rights Act which required any voting changes to be approved the federal government.

    In fitting with the theme for this Black History Month, the MDBAA will be holding a lecture on Voting Rights this Saturday. In order to reach out to different age groups, for the first time, they will be including two student speakers.

    “It’s time for the young people to step up. It’s their future, and what their country is going to look like for them,” Gholar said. “[Voter suppression in 2018] was not targeting just African Americans. They were also targeting young people, the college students, even the armed forces overseas. That’s why it’s important to me that those students speak and that most of that room is filled with students and college kids.”

    Sophia Luti, one of the student speakers, is a junior from California School of the Arts. She will be presenting on the history of the Voting Rights Act and the 15th amendment.

    “I think kids my age really need to understand that voting is a privilege that we haven’t yet had afforded to us. So that means we need to fight harder for the day that when we do get it, we understand it with our full hearts,” Luti said.

    “Black History month is a time to celebrate a really rich and deep history of, not only oppression, but a people who got through everything thrown at them. If we stand together and try to do what we want, then maybe we’ll have a better world in the end.

    To reach out to young children, the MDBAA and the Monrovia Public Library will present a story theater enactment for Papa’s Mark a book by Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert that tells a story of an African American boy who teaches his father to write his name, so that the father may cast a voting ballot.

    The MDBAA Voting Rights lecture will be held at the Monrovia Community Center this Saturday at 2 p.m. The lecture will include a screening of Suppressed: The Fight to Vote. A voting registar will be on site.

    The story theater is a part of several activities celebrating Black History at the Monrovia Public Library on Feb. 22 at 1 p.m.

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