Over the last several weeks our staff has written nearly a dozen stories on the passage of the 19th Amendment and the obstacles faced by those early women, Blacks and Native Americans fighting for the right to vote. All women were ignored for too long, but the battles by women of color and Native Americans to gain this most basic right continued long after the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment. If you haven’t read those stories, click here.
It’s nearly unimaginable to me how so many Americans were disenfranchised and screwed over for so long and yet there wasn’t more violence, more upheaval. Perhaps, though, that helps explain why today it is all coming to a head, why the floodgates of anger over the treatment of minorities has come to a head.
It was 1848 when the Seneca Falls, N.Y., convention for women’s rights was held. At this time there was already an organized movement to change the laws that kept women out of the ballot box and out of political life. It was 72 years later — nearly two generations given the life expectancy in those days — before the 19th Amendment was passed.
For Native Americans, it was the 1924 Snyder Act that officially gave them U.S. citizenship, but elections boards in Jackson and Swain counties here in the Western North Carolina mountains didn’t let members of the Eastern Band vote until 1946 — 22 years later. It finally happened because returning Native American veterans who served in World War II demanded it. Protests were led by the Steven Youngdeer American Legion Post 143 on the Qualla Boundary. Utah and New Mexico didn’t let Native Americans vote until 1962. Ludicrous.
For Blacks in this country, the right to vote wasn’t really guaranteed until 1965 — 100 years after the North won the Civil War and the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed. That was when the Voting Rights Act got through Congress and was signed by President Lyndon Johnson, finally outlawing literacy tests and poll taxes and blatant intimidation that was long accepted, particularly in the South.
Thirty years after the Civil War — in the late 1890s — Southern Democrats were openly running as white supremacists and enthusiastically supporting violence against Blacks. In 1898 in Wilmington, N.C. — a day after the election — at least 60 Blacks were murdered and many others banished from town as the Democrats staged a bloody coup, even forcing the mostly white town council to resign and appointing themselves as the new aldermen (the book, Wilmington’s Lie, was released this year by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Zucchino and is both shocking in its story and gripping in its detail).
So here we are in 2020 and the killing of unarmed Blacks by police has led to an awakening regarding the vestiges of institutional racism. Violent riots, despite what some say, don’t move anything forward. Civil protests, marches and dialogue will raise awareness but that’s about it.
The ballot box is where it needs to happen. Americans of all persuasions need to vote, let the chips fall where they will, and then continue voicing their opinions on the important issues facing this country. Given the battle fought by so many to obtain voting rights, it’s almost criminal to not take this civil duty seriously. If you stay home, then stay out of the debate.
You can visit the board of elections office in your home county or download a North Carolina voter registration form and instructions at https://dl.ncsbe.gov/voter_registration/ncvoterregform_06w.pdf.
Election Day is Nov. 3.