John Lewis’ Legacy: Four Southern States are Still Battling for Voter RightsBreaking News
tags: African American history, Southern history, voting rights
Black people have been fighting for access to the ballot box since Reconstruction and are still being denied. Voting isn’t the only way for communities of color to create social change—or oftentimes even the most important way— but we still deserve to participate in our democracy just as much as our white counterparts. And Lewis, a Civil Rights Movement veteran and longtime Democratic U.S. House representative from Georgia, deserved to see voting rights expanded rather than decimated during his lifetime.
Following his death on July 17, 48 U.S. senators introduced legislation bearing Lewis’ name to restore the Voting Rights Act, which passed in 1965 thanks to his work and sacrifice. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a section that required certain jurisdictions to seek federal approval before changing election laws. The provision served as a critical guard against voter suppression, particularly in the South. Without it, many states have seen a resurgence of tactics designed to diminish the voting power of Black and brown communities, as our president openly undermines the elections process.
Penning his final words, Lewis wrote, "Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble."
Across the South, organizers are battling voter suppression in the most conservative states by doing just this. These Southerners are engaged in the type of “good trouble” that would surely bring a smile to Lewis’ face.
Georgia became the poster child for voter suppression during its 2018 gubernatorial election.
Hundreds of thousands of residents, a disproportionate number of them people of color, were improperly purged from voting rolls, had their voter registrations put on hold for no apparent reason, or never received their absentee ballots. On Election Day, voters contended with hours-long lines, defective voting machines, and being forced to cast provisional ballots because their voting eligibility was called into question.
If not for voter suppression, Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, may have become the first Black woman governor in both Georgia and the U.S. She received 48.8 percent of the vote in a historically red state. The election catalyzed Abrams to found Fair Fight, an organization that promotes fair elections in Georgia and around the country. One of Fair Fight’s first actions was filing a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Georgia’s elections policies and procedures, and the case is still pending.
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