This comes by way of the assiduous research of the great Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic Monthly:
We did not disfranchise the negroes until 1895. Then we had a constitutional convention convened which took the matter up calmly, deliberately, and avowedly with the purpose of disfranchising as many of them as we could under the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. We adopted the educational qualification as the only means left to us, and the negro is as contented and as prosperous and as well protected in South Carolina to-day as in any State of the Union south of the Potomac.
He is not meddling with politics, for he found that the more he meddled with them the worse off he got. As to his "rights" -- I will not discuss them now. We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will.
That was United States Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina, speaking in 1900, on the floor of the United States Senate.
Well, he was honest about the aims of literacy tests as a qualification for voting. They had nothing to do with literacy, and everything to do with denying the basic right of citizenship to a class of people.
Those who felt that voting rights were primarily about politics, which politician was entitled to receive which votes, are not around to witness the reaction of those of us still curious about our history. Does anyone recall which local officials were elected at the turn of the last century? But we do recall that voting rights, citizenship rights, human rights, were denied to large groups of people for political purposes.
We look back at a century gone, in wonderment at those in that era who lacked even the simplest sense of justice, those who gave no thought at all to the fact that voting rights belong to voters, not politicians.
But that was long ago. Nothing to do with us now. Right?
Consider this litany of accomplishments:
We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we’ve talked about for years.
Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done.
First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done.
Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.
That from last week, words spoken by the Majority Leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Mike Turzai. He was addressing cheering members of the Republican State Committee.
Well, he is honest about the aims of restrictive Photo ID's as a qualification for voting. They have nothing to do with the integrity of the voting process, and everything to do with denying the basic right of citizenship to a class of people. It is hard to find a fair minded person who honestly believes that the newer more restrictive laws are for any other purpose than to keep completely legitimate voters from casting ballots. Those who have little daily use for Photo IDs are invited to visit obscure offices in areas far away, with often absurd requirements of documentation far exceeding anything reasonable.
In Tennessee, a elderly widow who managed to keep voting, even during the harsh days of Jim Crow, is told she can no longer vote because she has trouble locating a marriage license to her long deceased husband. Is she a threat to the orderly process of government? The most significant part of her story, it seems to me, that most telling incident, is the reaction of a state worker to the woman's continuing efforts to vote.
The worker laughs. Laughs. The laugh comes from the unexpected determination, not to be seen from ordinary working folk. The worker says she cannot understand why anyone would go through that much trouble to vote. She explains that it has never happened before in her experience.
Of course. That is not simply the expectation. It is the objective. It goes beyond the rigging of elections by Republicans.
As it was a century ago, there are those today who believe this second great surge in voter suppression is significant only because one political figure or another will benefit: no thought given to the fact that voting rights belong to voters, not politicians.
Those cynics will be spared the reaction of those curious few, those who will look back a century from now in wonderment at those for whom the simplest sense of justice melted away in the summer heat of aggressive partisan passion.
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