As an African American and 2nd great granddaughter to slaves, I have to follow my ancestor’s lead and continue to exercise my right to vote.
Recently, I read an article on “Race and Voting in the Segregated South”. In the article, it states, the most basic right of a citizen in a democracy is the right to vote. Without this right, people can be easily ignored and even abused by their government. This, in fact, is what happened to African American citizens living in the South following Civil War Reconstruction. Despite the 14th and 15th amendments guaranteeing the civil rights of black Americans, their right to vote was systematically taken away by white supremacist state governments1.
My maternal and paternal ancestors were from Bolivar County, MS and Chickasaw County, MS respectively. I can only imagine what they must have endured as they tried to exercise their right to vote for the first time. The article shared information on “Voting in Mississippi”. It stated, with federal troops no longer present to protect the rights of black citizens, white supremacy quickly returned to the old Confederate states. Black voting fell off sharply in most areas because of threats by white employers and violence from the Ku Klux Klan, a ruthless secret organization bent on preserving white supremacy at all costs.
Because of the 15th Amendment, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” whites could not ban blacks from voting. So like many legislators, when they want to guarantee a certain outcome, the try and change the laws. Instead, they wrote into the state constitution a number of voter restrictions making it difficult for most blacks to register to vote.
First, the new constitution required an annual poll tax, which voters had to pay for two years before the election. This was a difficult economic burden to place on black Mississippians, who made up the poorest part of the state's population. Many simply couldn't pay it.
|Hobson_Buggs_Doss_Lipsey Family Members|
But the most formidable voting barrier put into the state constitution was the literacy test. It required a person seeking to register to vote to read a section of the state constitution and explain it to the county clerk who processed voter registrations. This clerk, who was always white, decided whether a citizen was literate or not.
The literacy test did not just exclude the 60 percent of voting-age black men (most of them ex-slaves) who could not read. It excluded almost all black men, because the clerk would select complicated technical passages for them to interpret. By contrast, the clerk would pass whites by picking simple sentences in the state constitution for them to explain.
During this time in Chickasaw County, MS where my paternal families are from, the Klan was evolved into a political tool to terrorize blacks in an attempt to prevent them from voting. According to the history of Chickasaw County, MS, most cases of violence from the Klan occurred during election time2. In some instances, employment was refused to blacks in Chickasaw county who voted.
In the midst of it all, intimidation didn’t prevent my 2nd great grandfathers from registering to vote. During one of my research visits to Chickasaw County, MS, I reviewed the voter registration information and was ecstatic to see the names of my ancestors.
|Houlka, Mississippi - Voter Registration for Years 1886 & 1887|
|Voter Log - August 13th & 14th, 1886|
|Last line -- 2nd Great Grandfather - Ephraim Bugg - August 14, 1886|
|3rd from the bottom -- 2nd Great Grandfather Michael E. Hobson, Sr - August 14, 1886|
|4th from the top -- 2nd Great Grandfather William Doss - August 14, 1886|
|3rd Great Grandfather -- Miles Hill - August 14th, 1886|
|Great Uncle/2nd Great Grandfather -- Robert Bugg Sr - October 26, 1887; Ancestor - Ellison Hobson, Sr|
The environment and conditions in which my ancestors lived, the threat of persecution during post Civil War Reconstruction, yet they participated in voting. I dare not give my vote away.
Every African American born in this country is standing on the shoulders of giants who persevered to make sure we are here today. We owe it to their sacrifices and must exercise the right to have our voices heard.
(1) Race and Voting in the Segregated South - http://www.crf-usa.org/brown-v-board-50th-anniversary/race-and-voting.html
(2) Chickasaw County History, Volume 1