By: Lynette Monroe (NNPA Newswire Guest Columnist)
August 28th, marked the day, 63 years ago, when Emmett Till was savagely beaten and lynched in Mississippi. It is the same day, 8 years later, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. Ten years ago, on that day, then candidate Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. On August 28th of this year, Florida elected its first Black gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Andrew Gillum.
Despite the horror of Emmett Till’s murder in 1955, August 28th has marked a date of victory and progress for Blacks in America. Many of these victories were obtained by Blacks showing up to the polls.
However, these change-making triumphs were — and often still are — met with retaliation from those that benefit most from the status quo. Therefore, we must remain vigilant in securing unprecedented Black voter participation in the 2018 elections by exercising our constitutional right to vote — a right the current administration has failed to protect.
During the White House’s first press briefing following President Trump’s visit to Helsinki, April Ryan questioned Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about voter suppression and election meddling. The White House failed to state a clear position.
It is up to each of us as Americans to decide whether or not the United States will protect from foreign and domestic adversaries. Ensuring that our right, as citizens, to vote in free and fair elections is secure. However, history reminds us that the U.S. has a poor record of protecting those rights for all of its citizens — especially when those citizens are African Americans.
Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed. Our opponents have not changed their tactics. The enemies of justice have always known this fact that education is inextricably tied to freedom: Our right to read is as fundamental as our right to vote.
Brown vs. the Board of Education, the famous Supreme Court decision which declared school segregation unconstitutional, was rendered in 1954. In 1956, just two years after Brown, Look magazine published the confessions of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, the men acquitted for the brutal murder of Emmett Till. In the article, Milam indicated that school integration and voting rights were motives for his violent behavior.
“As long as I live and can do anything about it,” Milam said, “Niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids.”
While the tactics and techniques employed are no longer as violent and blatant as Milam and Bryant’s, the intent to suppress Black votes and simultaneously limit access to an equitable education continues into the 21st century.
In 2012, measured against the population, the percentage of Black voter participation surpassed that of Whites. In 2013, just one year later, the Supreme Court voted to void section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing nine, mostly southern and historically discriminatory states, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. Immediately, Texas re-enacted a previously blocked voter identification law and began making plans for redistricting.
In 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law. ESSA is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 and is designed to ensure access to high-quality education for all children regardless of the color of their skin, geographic location, or socioeconomic status. A major distinction between this law and earlier reauthorizations is that it grants each state the power to develop the academic standards and evidenced-based interventions that best fit the needs of their population.
ESSA represents an opportunity to establish a more equitable playing field but the Trump administration’s 2019 federal budget proposes cutting $3 billion from the Education Department while investing over a billion dollars in school choice programs. The risk to equitable education: More than 90 percent of students in the United States attend public schools, and, as of 2014, attendance in America’s public schools is majority-minority.
In June of this year, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s right to purge voting rolls if voters have failed to participate in recent elections and fail to respond to a notice from election officials. Nationwide initiatives to clear inactive voters from the rolls are thinly veiled attempts to reduce “widespread voter fraud,” enacted by several Republican-controlled legislatures, despite overwhelming data that establishes that voter fraud I essentially non-existent.
Opponents of justice realize that access to education enhances the prospect that citizens will exercise our voting rights. The ethical lapses and physical violence that often arise as a result of progress in these areas is no coincidence. To combat voter suppression, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), in partnership with other civil rights groups, has launched a campaign to drive 5 million additional Black voters to the polls.
In his remarks to the attendees of the NAACP’s convention in San Antonio, Texas, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., NNPA President and CEO, remarked that much of what is happening in Washington, D.C. today, “is in reaction to our going to the polls and voting. Voter suppression is taking place because we are voting.”
Lynette Monroe is the program assistant for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign and a master’s student at Howard University. Her research areas are public policy and national development. Follow Lynette on Twitter @_monroedoctrine.