Why vote?
By Doris McCullough and Bill Roberts
Jul 29, 2020
Print this page
Email this article

(The following was presented to the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bonham, Texas, in February of 2020, by Doris McCullough and Bill Roberts.  This was five months prior to the passing of civil rights legend Representative John Lewis.)

Unlike millions of our ancestors, both black and white, you have a voice to use to change our country.  It may not be a loud voice, alone, but when combined with others it can, and sometimes does, make a big difference.  Those of you who watched television on the night of November 4, 2008 know what that means.

Although many blacks served in the American revolution, only free black men who owned property were allowed to vote, and only those in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  But even Pennsylvania and New Jersey rescinded those rights in the early 1800s.  It wasn't until after the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in the Civil War that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were passed and the slow process of giving voting rights to black (male) citizens began.  The 19th Amendment, granting women the vote, did not pass until more than 50 years later.

In response, many southern states passed laws and state constitutions that continued to disenfranchise blacks and many poor whites up until the 1960s.  In addition to facing things like literacy tests and poll taxes, because blacks were excluded from voter rolls they were unable to serve on juries which remained all white, as well.

Only in the 1950's did racist politicians begin to lose their grip on power in the South.  A few brave legislators, including Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson of Texas and Al Gore, Sr., of Tennessee, refused to sign the Southern Manifesto which sought to undo the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling on school desegregation.

The 1960s saw a groundswell of public opinion that changed America forever, but not without the sacrifice of many martyred civil rights heroes.  Medgar Evers was assassinated by the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan in 1963, as were James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner (a black man and two Jews) in 1964.  Hundreds of others were beaten or killed for the offense of trying to register blacks to vote and assure their access to the polls, including present leaders like Representative John Lewis of Georgia.

The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 finally allowed the U.S. government to enforce the rights of blacks to vote in southern states where they had so long been denied.  While the progress was slow and the setbacks many, as Dr. King said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

So, your vote is the most effective way that you have to bend that arc toward justice just a little bit sooner.

Yet, we still face many problems.  There are states that continue to use every means available, including voter suppression and gerrymandering, to negate the ability of voters of color to effect the changes we need and deserve.  Far too often, politicians must be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing, and our votes are the means we use to drag them.

As you look around our country, you can see that we are governed by people like ourselves, flawed and all-too-human.  But you can also see that some of these people are of honest good will, while others are venal and selfish.  Your vote is the only protection we have against those who would use the levers of government for their personal interests as opposed to those who are inclined to serve the common good.

It has been said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world.  Why?  Because it's the only thing that ever has."

Your vote is your voice, earned by the blood and tears of the brave souls who have preceded us. 

Your vote is your voice.  Make them hear it!