Election Day – Part 1

I’ve stayed away from discussions about the election for numerous reasons, mainly because I don’t want to engage in a back and forth argument over which candidate is the best. At this point, neither is that great. However, I do believe in the importance of voting.

It is a right that I don’t take for granted. I am black. Voting wasn’t granted to my ancestors even after freedom was. That being said we need to exercise the right to vote. Even when the options seem slim.

My son has been getting all into this election mainly because Nickelodeon has been running ads to educate the kids on the voting process. He goes to school and they discuss politics. He’s only in the 3rd grade, yet he has an unwavering ability to let you know who you shouldn’t vote for and his reason is simple “I don’t like who he is”.

Pretty interesting huh? He’s 8.

I early voted here in Maryland last week. It was my first time early voting. I’ve taken my son to the polls every time since he was born on election day. This was the third time for the presidential election, but every time we have an election I bring him along. I want him to understand the importance and value in voting.

Last week when we went out trick or treating in a well off area where the candy is plentiful and the gifts are amazing (they gave brand new books to each child) we walked the streets admiring the costumes and houses knowing that we wouldn’t be able to afford a house in this neighborhood. Prices were well over 1 million dollars and as a single parent with one income, unless I sell “sex on the corner”, it ain’t happening. At least not now.

So many people trick or treat in this neighborhood far and wide. The people are always friendly and they really go out of their way to decorate their houses and yards and make it fun for the kids. Year after year, we’re never disappointed. I’ve brought friends with me for the last three years and they love it too.

Well, we’re walking along a street and Munch is yelling “Trick or Treat” well before he gets to the house in anticipation of his candy. He laughs and says thank you after a treat. One house we stopped at had a sign supporting their presidential candidate choice in their front yard. Munch looked at it and asked the woman “Why do you have that Trump sign in your yard?” She responded “I don’t know.”

Feeling embarrassed by his lack of decourum, I rushed him away. He then turned to me and asked “Mommy, why does she have a sign for Trump in her yard?” I responded, “Because she is supporting him.” He didn’t understand. He asked, “But why mommy?”

I said “Munch, the great thing about an election is that you can vote for whomever you choose. You can support whichever candidate you feel is best to represent you.” He listened and then said, “But mommy, Trump is not a good guy and he doesn’t represent anyone.”

I realized at this moment that my little boy was growing up. I couldn’t be embarrassed by his questions when I’ve done everything to show him the importance of voting. I can’t get mad when he yells that you should vote for Hillary Clinton because those are the top two choices we have (realistically speaking) who will run this country.

He’s entitled to his opinion. Which is what he was expressing when we went to the polls last week. His 8 year old opinion.

 

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Happy Birthday MLK!

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. He would have been 87. He was an activist, humanitarian and a leader in the Civil Rights movement. He was a part of history. A brilliant but flawed man that believed in equal rights in a non-violent way.

I saw Selma last month and I am encouraging each of you to see and support this wonderful film. From the opening to the closing of this film, you will be moved. It is a film that speaks relevance to things that are occurring today in this world.

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Why I Vote

Today is election day. I love election day. Always have. Maybe because my mother instilled a strong sense of racial pride, politics and history that I always knew that voting was something I wanted to do. I was devastated that I couldn’t vote for President Bill Clinton in the first election. He was my hero. He was a cool white guy, who played the sax and loved black people. So at 17 I knew that I wanted him to represent me as an American. Didn’t take much, but I think his election resonated with African Americans and we felt like we had a “black” president. He was concerned about us as a people and we elected him.

I remember standing in line when I moved to Nashville to attend Fisk University at the city hall registering to vote. I was 18. I wanted to exercise my right in the electoral process and couldn’t wait. I filled out the forms and received my voter registration card. I was official. Although I didn’t cast my official ballot in Tennessee, that didn’t stop me from registering when I moved back home to Maryland and yes, I’m a Democrat. Do I believe in one party over the other? No, not really. I’m probably somewhere in the middle, but I feel as though Democrats genuinely like black people which is something I don’t quite experience in the Republican party. Doesn’t mean I dislike them, I just want them to find educated brown people that look like me and maybe I will be persuaded to change lines. Maybe.

Today is a great day because it is an historic time for African Americans. More than 100 African Americans will be on the ballots across the country. I’m loving it. How about the fact that 83 black Republicans and Democrats are running for the U.S. House and of that 83, 30 of them are women?Yep, I am still smiling. How about the fact that in Georgia, 5 black women are making history and running for statewide offices? They are known as the Georgia Five.  This is change. This is progress. This is what happens when people step up and exercise their right to vote and make change. They believe that they can make a difference.

Voting changes things. This is true:

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I’m encouraging you to get out and vote today. READ the issues affecting your county and state and vote.

Why do I vote?

I vote for me. I am a woman. I matter.

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I vote for those that marched.

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I vote because up until the Voting Rights Act I couldn’t vote. I’m from the south. This Act gave me the right to vote.

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I vote because of him.

Because he needs to understand that people died for our right to vote.
Because he needs to understand that people died for our right to vote.

I vote because it matters. Get out and vote!

Exercising the Right to Vote

Voting is a right and a responsibility that I take seriously. One of the things that I learned at an early age is the appreciation of my history. I learned not only African American history, but my family’s history as well. My great grandparents were sharecroppers and my grandparents and their children picked cotton.

According to the U.S. History Encyclopedia: Sharecroppers were agricultural wage laborers who raised crops on farm plots owned by large landowners in the post–Civil War era. Both landless whites and blacks worked as sharecroppers, although the majority of sharecroppers were African Americans. The system of sharecropping primarily existed in the southern states and was the end result of struggles between former planters and recently freed slaves over the terms of a new labor system. The sharecropping system was financially oppressive and most sharecroppers were unable to break out of a cycle of poverty and debt. Sharecroppers were responsible for providing their own board and clothing. Sharecropping began to die down after the Great Depression, so many planters were either evicted from their land or migrated north.

My grandmother was born in 1930. She dropped out of school in the third grade in order to take care of her family. Her birth mother had died, so she needed to help her father by tending to the land and being a substitute mother to her siblings.

As many of you are aware, southern black folks weren’t given the right to vote. It was given to us by the Civil Rights Act in 1965.  Growing up in the south, there were many tactics used to discourage blacks from voting including literacy tactics and poll taxes. Many other strange stunts were pulled so that blacks couldn’t exercise their right to vote. Did you know that some blacks were asked “how many bubbles were in a bar of soap?”. What kind of foolishness was that?

Eight Ways People Were Kept From Voting

1) Violence: Blacks who tried to vote were threatened, beaten, and killed.  Their families were also harmed.  Sometimes their homes were burned down.  Often, they lost their jobs or were thrown off their farms.

Whites used violence to intimidate blacks and prevent them from even thinking about voting. Still, some blacks passed the requirements to vote and took the risk. Some whites used violence to punish those “uppity” people and show other blacks what would happen to them if they voted.

2) Literacy tests: Today almost all adults can read.  One hundred years ago, however, many people – black and white – were illiterate.  Most illiterate people were not allowed to vote. A few were allowed if they could understand what was read to them.  White officials usually claimed that whites could understand what was read. They said blacks could not understand it, even if they could.

3) Property tests: In the South one hundred years ago, many states allowed only property owners to vote.  Many blacks and whites had no property and could not vote.

4) Grandfather clause: People who could not read and owned no property were allowed to vote if their fathers or grandfathers had voted before 1867.  Of course, practically no blacks could vote before 1867, so the grandfather clause worked only for whites.

5) All-white primary elections: In the United States, there are usually two rounds of elections: first the primary, then the general.  In the primary, Republicans run against Republicans and Democrats run against Democrats.  In the general election, the winner of the Republican primary runs against the winner of the Democratic primary.  The Republican or Democrat who gets the most votes is elected.

In the South from about 1900 to about 1960, the Democratic candidates usually won. (See the exhibit Political Parties in Black and White to learn the reason for this.)  Republicans were almost never elected, especially in the Deep South.  This means that the Democratic primary election was usually the only election that mattered.  

African Americans were not allowed to vote in the Democratic primary elections.  White Democrats said the Democratic Party was a “club” and did not allow black members.  So blacks could not vote in the only elections that mattered.

6) Purges: From time to time, white officials purged the voting rolls.  That means they took people’s names off the official lists of voters. Some voters would arrive at the polls and find that they were not registered to vote. Often they could not register to vote again until after the election.  Purges more often affected blacks than whites.

7) Former prisoners: People who had gone to prison were often not allowed to vote.  Blacks were very often arrested on trumped-up charges or for minor offenses. Sometimes, white owners of mines, farms, and factories simply needed cheap labor, and prisons provided it. This law kept many more blacks from voting than whites.

8) Poll taxes: In Southern states, people had to pay a tax to vote. The taxes were about $25 to $50 dollars in today’s money. Many people had extremely low incomes and could not afford this tax.  This poll tax applied to all people who wanted to vote – black and white.  There were ways for whites to get around other laws, but not around the poll tax.  Many poor whites could not vote because of the poll tax.

America’s Black Holocaust Museum

My grandmother told me that she didn’t vote until she was in her mid-30’s and married. She said that the first time she went to vote, the woman at the court house asked her “Are you a Democrat or Republican?” She said that she didn’t know which party she belonged to so she said Republican.

Later that evening, when she arrived home, my grandfather asked her, “What did you vote?” She replied, “Republican”. He said, “Fool, you ain’t no Republican. You poor and black. You a Democrat!”

LOL.

Knowing my family’s history and this country’s history has afforded me the opportunity to be enlightened, educated and free. I don’t squander the hand I was dealt and I believe in exercising my right to vote. Voting is not a job, it is my right and responsibility and considering the current state of political candidates I encourage everyone to look at it as such and cast your vote.