Is history repeating itself and will the future remember?
The recent moves of the Georgia legislature to restrict voter access reeked of the Reconstruction era where blacks had the right to vote, exercised it, and then lost it. Following the civil war where Confederates lost, laws were proposed to integrate former slaves and Blacks giving them access to economic rewards they had earned, as well as full and equal voting and political access and legal protections in the South.
During this time, former slaves – Black men – became a political majority and force in much of the south. Hundreds of thousands of Black men registered to vote. Between 1863 and 1877 almost 2000 Black men were elected to public office. South Carolina elected its first Black U.S. Congressman in 1869, while Mississippi elected its first Black U.S. Senator in 1870.
So, what went wrong? Well, a lot of things went south (literally) culminating in the end to the Reconstruction era and the ultimate betrayal (but not the last) of Blacks. After President Lincoln was assassinated, Vice President, Andrew Johnson became President. Vice President Johnson was a Southern Democrat and former slave owner. Instead of continuing Lincoln’s vision, Johnson proved loyal to his southern brethren and supported re-establishment of all white governments in the South. White Supremacy hate groups flourished, Jim Crow laws ruled, and lynching became public events. At the same time, Republicans made a backroom deal with Southern Democrats leading to the election of a Republican President in exchange for an end to Reconstruction. The result, federal protections of former slaves ended along with their right to vote, their political power, and their social and economic gains. Elected Black men were essentially booted out of office and replaced with Confederate Democrats.
Sound familiar? In 2020, Blacks in Georgia made history. We effectively and boldly asserted our voting power resulting in a fundamental shift in American politics. This movement was years in the making and the result of the work of Stacey Abrams and other grass root organizations. The combination of their efforts and our resolve resulted in President Biden winning Georgia. Democrats came back again and did what most thought would be impossible; we elected two democratic senators in a run-off election, and we elected our first Black U.S. Senator.
Instead of taking an honest look at what has become of their party, the Republican controlled legislature pulled out the Jim Crow Playbook in a plan to suppress the Black vote by any means necessary. To this end, the Georgia legislature recently passed bills to severely restrict ballot boxes, limit early voting, end automatic voter registration, and end “Souls to the Polls’ Sunday voting. If passed, counties will no longer be able to accept grants to improve their elections, and no excuse absentee voter ballots will end. Interestingly enough, it was the Republican controlled legislature that enacted these laws a decade ago. Clearly, they had no problem with their own laws until Blacks organized and asserted their political will in a major way which resulted in major wins.
Now to be fair, Georgia is not the only state trying to turn back the hands of time. The Jim Crow Playbook has been shared and used in 43 states resulting in 253 voter suppression bills being introduced.
Where are we now? The next move is on Governor Kemp. Will he sign the bills which will effectively end full and equal access to voting? Governor Kemp’s silence on these bills signals he really does not support them. But Kemp has an election coming up and he does not appear to be the GOP favorite. If we have learned nothing else this year, most Republicans will silence themselves to keep the GOP base.
Fortunately, for us, it may not matter. Obviously, if these bills pass, it will be a big blow to hard work and sacrifice made to mobilize the Black vote. But we also know, you can never count us out. By the time the next election comes there will be an estimated 4 to 6 million new voters on the rolls in Georgia. Future voters who have been directly impacted by the two Presidential elections, the pandemic, school closings, loss of jobs, unfair immigration laws, and too many deaths will want to weigh in on the issues and exercise their votes. These new voters have witnessed, participated in, and have been impacted by the Black Lives Matter movement. They have seen the power we assert when we vote. I think this time, they will be determined to show up to vote no matter what.