The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

July 1, 2013

Henry Morgan, guest columnist: 'History did not end in 1965'

JOPLIN, Mo. — The words that form the title of this column were uttered by Chief Justice John Roberts in defense of his vote to destroy the Voting Rights Act.

He was right — not about his vote, but about history.

It is a rare occurrence these days to see a black man, beaten, castrated, hanged and burned.

Lynchings are not common these days.

Rarely do we see these days mounted cops charging into a mass of protesters, men, women and children, who are trying to gain their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote.

Cops siccing police dogs on poor blacks, firemen aiming high-powered hoses at crowds of people, brutally washing their bodies down public streets, cops beating people with billy clubs, and crowds attacking Freedom Riders with baseball bats and axe handles were common sights in 1965.

They are extremely uncommon today.

History did not end in 1965. Justice Roberts is right.

While history did not end in 1965, neither did the attempts to suppress the right of citizens to vote end in 1965 — only the methods.

Instead of lynchings, police dogs, beatings, firehoses and billy clubs, we now have voter ID, limiting or ending early voting, reducing the number of polling places in black communities while increasing those in white communities and ending Sunday voting — the day that many hard-working people have to vote since they can’t get off work on Tuesday.

Instead of literacy tests, we now eliminate postcard registration.

Instead of poll taxes, we charge for photo ID and place the only places where such ID can be obtained at forbiddingly long distances. And instead of conveniently located polling places, we place them at equally forbiddingly long distances, especially for citizens with no automobiles and no public transit facilities.

Yes, Chief Justice Roberts, history did not end in 1965.

But what replaced this more violent era of history?

Do you not read newspapers? Do you not watch TV? Do you not listen to news radio?

Are you totally unaware of the endless attempts to suppress the votes of some of our citizens in many, many states, most of which are covered by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which is now moot?

Did you not see the endlessly long lines of people, predominately black, waiting hours to vote? Did you not see or hear the story of the 92-year-old black woman who waited in line for seven hours to get her right to vote?

Did you not read the stories of the many elderly people who could not vote because they could not locate a copy of their birth certificates, issued often haphazardly to many black people back before 1965? Have you run across a single case of voter fraud, claimed to be widespread by those who worked to institute oppressive voter identification measures?

Did you encounter a single instance of equally long lines in white communities? Did you wonder why there was such a disparity in ease of access to the polls?

If your answer to all of the above questions is “no,” then it seems presumptuous of you to make a comment on history.

A judgment on history requires a close observation of what is going on around us, an observation that would seem to be absent in your case.

How could any reasonable observer of the 2012 election not see a clear pattern of efforts to suppress the votes of certain members of our society? The irony is that all of these attempts to suppress votes came even while the entirety of the Voting Rights Act was in effect. Assuring a fair vote is going to be much more difficult now that you have destroyed it.

Yes, history did not end in 1965.

Henry “Bud” Morgan is a retired MSSU English professor. He was active in the 1960s in the South in helping blacks register to vote.

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