Dying to Vote

As voting controversies multiply I think back to origins. I think of a Senator from Missouri and a lady who recently celebrated her 97th birthday in North Carolina.

Her name is Rosanell Eaton. As folks gathered in North Carolina to march to the polls, she stood, worn and feisty, and talked about the days when the poll tax, the tax on those showing up to register, was occasionally death. She and her mother rode in a mule drawn wagon for two hours to the courthouse in 1939, where she was determined to exercise her right to vote. She was confronted by the traditional test, the one given to black folks.

One man, as they were looking at each other again, told me: Stand up straight, against that wall, with your eyes looking directly toward me, and repeat the Preamble of the United States of America.

To everyone’s surprise, she looked the man in the eyes and repeated, word for word, the entire preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

Without missing a word, I did it.

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The Republican Paper Moon


It isn’t the worst movie ever. But it is painful to watch. I can stand it for about 10 minutes at a time, I think.

I used to be a little tougher. I may have gotten almost all the way through it once, 40 years or so ago. But age takes its toll.

Paper Moon is a depression era comedy about an adult/child pair of swindlers who accidentally get involved in the movie business.

Tatum O’Neal starred with her dad Ryan, and she was extraordinary. She would have walked away with the film, if there had been enough film to justify the walk. She did win an Oscar. I like to think it was for heroic effort against all odds.

The acting was not what you’d call subtle. The broad slapstick was tired and predictable. Early on, Ryan hides from an angry client and falls on his face after getting his foot stuck in a pail. If Ace Ventura is just too sophisticated for you, this might be your movie choice.

Not everyone in the mid-1970s felt the same way. The late Roger Ebert gave it a thumbs up. Even reviewers for Rotten Tomatoes were positive.

Insane. All of them.


I confess to a bias that may color my thinking a bit.

The character played by Ryan O’Neal falls in love with the new art of filmmaking and it changes the direction of his life. He has found his calling.

It starts, for him, when he sees a break-through film: The Birth of a Nation. D. W. Griffith is a genius, he declares, and he is committed to the wonderful path technology has created for him.

That the silent movie he loves seriously advanced the vicious racism of the times, contributing to the revival of the Klan, is not mentioned even tangentially. The attack on the very idea that black people could handle the right to vote was passed over. The film coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of lynchings throughout the former confederacy. None of that actually hit the cutting room floor. It was never there to be cut. It did not fit with the film’s comic intent.

I have similar uncomfortable moments as I occasionally come across old episodes of The Honeymooners. Jackie Gleason’s bombast comes perilously close to physical abuse, and continually exposes us to the 1950s assumption that violence is a natural part of marriage.

That Audrey Meadows stands, firm and calm and strong, in the face of those threats is a saving grace of sorts. And the show actually has funny moments at Ralph Kramden’s expense.

I thought about Paper Moon as I read a recent piece on the role played by Steve Bannon in Roy Moore’s near win in Alabama.
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