Arizona has Suppressed Black, Latino and Native American Voters for More than a CenturyBreaking News
tags: racism, Arizona, voting rights, Native American history
When Peterson Zah attended the Phoenix Indian School as a youth, teachers there instructed students on the importance of voting.
At the time, the majority of Native people in Arizona didn’t have that right.
“Fast forward years to when we were trying to carry what we were taught, there was all kinds of blocks,” said Zah, 82.
By the time he was of voting-age, voting rights were legally conferred, but, in practice, Native Americans — as well as other minorities in the state — remained disenfranchised en masse by a series of discriminatory voting practices, policies and requirements.
Zah, now 82, has spent the majority of his life working to remove those blocks. He grew up on the Navajo Nation in the 1940s and later become the chairman and first president of the Navajo Nation following years at civil rights organizations.
“These rights weren’t always there in the form that they’re in now,” he said. “Many people had to do the hard work to fight for these rights and people need to know about that history.”
The racist history of Arizona blocking or diminishing Latino, Black and Native people’s ability to participate in the political process is long, dating back to the state’s territorial period, and features tactics reminiscent of the Deep South.
The state employed a strict literary test for voter registration for more than 60 years and as recently as 2013 was one of only 11 states singled out by a section of the Voting Rights Act due to a long record of suppressing minority voters.
And some say the state and nation are now in the midst of a “second generation” of discriminatory voting practices — one defined by strict voter ID laws and polling location closures, among other measures, that have taken the place of literacy tests or voter intimidation.
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