PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
News

Black voters remember fight against racial divides

Cassandra Spratling
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

(Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

Serving proudly in the Army in the 1940s, Samuel Green sought to exercise a basic right of citizenship. He wanted to vote.

While stationed overseas, he requested an absentee ballot. But officials in his home town of Montgomery, Ala., said no.

He had not paid the poll tax, the roughly $2 fee that kept many black people from voting.

"Here I was overseas, fighting in World War II, and they denied me the right to vote," said Green, who moved to Detroit in 1945. "We could hardly afford to live, let alone pay a poll tax."

For African-Americans like Green - who lived through segregation and the country's hottest stretch of racial violence since slavery - the rise of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president is more than amazing. It represents the realization of a future they never thought they would live to see.

They are elated, not just because a black man is the presidential front-runner, but because voters appear to be judging Obama for his qualifications, not his skin color.

Today, at 85, Green is proud once again.

"I think this was what Dr. King was talking about when he had that March on Washington," Green, a retired Detroit Department of Public Works supervisor, said of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "I never believed in my lifetime I would witness this."

Obama's run signals the significant maturing of the American voting public, said DeWitt Dykes Jr., associate professor of history at Oakland University.

"Until recently, most persons of African descent would not have been considered by the majority of white Americans as the nominee of a major party, and that he was able to convince people to look beyond race and to look to program and qualifications and ability is remarkable," said Dykes, who specializes in civil rights history.

"For all its shortcomings of the past ... for even some of the shortcomings for some citizens today ... America is now ready to look to individual ability, individual appeal and to promote, as much as possible, those who are capable."

Although Congress passed the 15th Amendment granting all American men the right to vote in 1869, it was nearly 100 years later before the Voting Rights Act made it illegal to hinder black people from voting.

John Hardy's Detroit home is filled with Obama paraphernalia - a collection of buttons, T-shirts and hats.

"If my mother and father were alive, they would be shouting in the streets that we've come so far in a relatively brief period of history," said Hardy, who voted absentee a couple weeks ago.

"I feel a lot of emotion bubbling up when I think of the fact that here we are in 2008, I'm 68 and I've just voted absentee for an African-American for president of the United States," said Hardy, an actor and retired Detroit teacher. "And I've voted for him not solely because he's an African-American candidate, but because he's the candidate that best represents the high standards people would expect for a leader. I'm beaming with pride.

"No matter how it goes, it's history."

For Hardy, Obama's story is especially sweet.

As a college student at what today is Tennessee State University, Hardy participated in sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters and went into rural towns in Mississippi to encourage and teach black people to vote.

On Sept. 7, 1961, Hardy had to escape the small town of Tylerton, Miss., after he escorted two black people to the Walthall County courthouse to register to vote. The registrar took a pistol and brutally hit Hardy about the head. Afterward, Hardy was arrested for "bringing an uprising among the people" and breaching the peace.

A few days later, he was released from jail. One of the townspeople put him on the floorboard of a pickup truck and covered him with a blanket to get him out of town to safety.

Ultimately, attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department intervened, and the charges against Hardy were dropped.

Detroiter Geraldine Blackwell Bledsoe grew up in one of the few black families in Mississippi that could vote. Bledsoe's father was a widely respected dentist in Meridian, Miss., and he could afford to pay the poll taxes.

But she, too, had a close brush with danger.

In the early 1950s, she drove civil rights activist Medgar Evers around town as he tried to organize black people to register to vote. Years later, a Klansman gunned Evers down in the driveway of his home.

"I knew it was dangerous, but I didn't think it was that dangerous," she said. "I drove him around, and I didn't dream he would reach this fate."

Today, the retired teacher is overwhelmed by the possibility of the first black president.

"I'm so proud and so happy," she said. "I feel that all this voting I've been doing has been worth it, however it turns out."

Mary Upshaw McClendon, 84, a Detroit community organizer and retired domestic worker, had her voting precinct delegate review her absentee ballot with her because she wanted to make sure she cast it correctly for Obama.

"I just felt uplifted and everything," said McClendon, who never voted until after moving to Detroit from Red Level, Ala., in 1955 at the age of 32. "It was like a flash of freedom, like when I first voted in the city of Detroit."

"I believe our ancestors prayed for this day to come," said McClendon, whose grandmother had been a slave. "They used to say, 'Things goin' to be all right in the by and by.' Obama done made the by and by come."

McClendon's precinct delegate is Pearl Reynolds, a neighbor in a senior citizens apartment building. At 91, Reynolds still actively volunteers in political campaigns and encourages people to vote.

When Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, she was at a victory party at Bert's Marketplace in Detroit's Eastern Market.

"It brought tears to my eyes, tears of happiness," Reynolds said.

Reynolds, a retired laundry factory worker, didn't vote until after moving to Detroit from Oak Ridge, La., in 1941.

M. Juanita Walker McGill, 83, also has already voted.

"The ballot came one day. I read it, signed it and posted it the next day," said McGill of Detroit, a retired social worker. "I wanted to make sure it got back in time to be counted.

"I feel if you don't vote, you're missing a golden opportunity," said McGill, who helped black people in Virginia register to vote when she was a Hampton University student in the 1940s.

When Joe Greene began teaching in the early 1960s at the South Panola Colored School in his hometown of Batesville, Miss., not one of the approximately 60 teachers was registered to vote.

"I thought because we were teachers and we were teaching students about being citizens, we should be registered to vote," Greene, 70, said.

He convinced 11 teachers to go to the courthouse one morning to register to vote. Only one followed through - Greene.

"Fear either paralyzes you or it makes you do things you should be doing," Greene said. "I was always afraid, but I was also afraid to sit around doing nothing."

The clerk asked Greene to copy a portion of the Constitution. He carefully copied it word for word, knowing that even a misplaced comma could disqualify him.

The clerk took Greene's copy, read it and handed him a registration form. Greene signed it; he was officially registered to vote. He has voted ever since.

A few weeks ago, Greene cast his ballot for Obama.

"To be able to vote for him was one of the highlights of my life," Greene said. "Where I grew up, there were no rights for African-Americans - not to vote, not to run for anything. To come this far to where an African-American can not only run, but be seriously considered for president, is to come a long way."

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.