Black History Month is time for us to remember, honor, respect, and appreciate the many and extraordinary contributions African Americans have made to America.
It also a time for us to recognize their centuries’ long struggle against racism and systemic oppression, their efforts to have their authentic cultural selves included in this country where their beings and their children are protected, not maimed and disrespected; where they have the same opportunities as others to succeed and thrive, to have access to quality education, jobs, housing; where they are able to have dreams and have them realized. African American forefathers and foremothers, those we know about and those we do not, were always crystal clear that their perspectives and lens were critical to their survival in and contribution to the American Experiment, during slavery (just read the slave narratives and other literature of slavery), Reconstruction, Post-Reconstruction (Jim Crow era), the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s and 1960s, the Black Power Movement of the 1970s, to the Black Lives Matter Movement today.
We often say we should not repeat some of the ugliest periods of our history; those periods dishonored and destroyed our very humanity. Unfortunately, today, across the country, we are turning back in time to disfranchisement and suppression of voting rights. During Reconstruction, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified and it gave Black men — in theory — the right to vote (Black women were in theory able to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment). Black men, where they could, exercised this right and elected themselves to the U.S. Senate and Congress, state legislatures, and several lower state, federal, and local offices. Black men, however, were not able to exercise the right to vote for long. White supremacists and white supremacy culture in southern states immediately began to enact various laws to stop the Black vote, such as literacy tests, poll taxes or fees to vote, and grandfather clauses. Vicious and violent attacks increased dramatically against these would-be voters and their families, including lynching.
Today, there are so many voter suppression laws on the books across the country, either passed or in various stages of the process, that it is difficult to keep up with the total numbers. And these voter suppression acts remind of us of our earlier history. Let’s not repeat it. Black Lives Matter. The Black Vote matters.
In California, we are approaching voting rights differently. Under the leadership of Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber, we have greater access and opportunities to vote. Dr. Weber, former Chair of Africana Studies at San Diego State University and former Assemblymember for the 79th District, was born in Arkansas, where her family were sharecroppers, and her parents did not vote until they moved to California. Beginning January 1, 2022, all registered voters will receive a mail ballot.
“It is a testament to the potential of this nation that a daughter of the Jim Crow South is now the chief elections officer of the largest state in our democracy,” said Secretary of State Weber in a public statement. “But it is a testament to America’s flaws that we may let many decades of progress on voting rights slip through our fingers.”