“We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote, and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” – Martin Luther King Jr., 1963
Aug. 28 will be the 50th anniversary of the day those words were spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. during his “I Have a Dream” speech at the great March on Washington.
King was answering the aggravating question he said was being asked of civil rights advocates: “When will you be satisfied?”
He gave a litany of milestones that would have to be met, including ending discrimination at the ballot box, before black people in this country would be satisfied.
One would think that after 50 years this country would have achieved those goals. And yet, as preparations are being made for the commemoration of that “March for Jobs and Freedom” five decades ago, we are still fighting against attempts to deny certain people in this country that most precious right to vote.
Republican leaders in some states, like my native Texas, have been re-energized in their discriminatory efforts by the ruling of the Supreme Court in June that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, passed just two years after the Washington march.
The court knocked down the provision in the act that designated 16 jurisdictions in the country — those with a history of discrimination — for required pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington before making any changes to election laws.
In Texas, which last year saw its voter ID law and its redistricting maps declared discriminatory by the courts, officials wasted no time in returning to business as usual. Within hours after the Supreme Court ruling, state Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the voter ID law would go into effect immediately, affirming what had been feared by supporters of the Voting Rights Act.
Similarly, other states like Florida and North Carolina rushed to resume their efforts in denying access to the ballot box. Under the guise of preventing illegal immigrants from voting, Florida resurrected its purging of the registered voter rolls that targeted mostly Latino-sounding names and proved to be highly inaccurate.
North Carolina, which had incredibly long lines in the 2012 election, passed a bill that obviously is intended to suppress the vote by cutting the number of early voting days, requiring voter ID, prohibiting the extension of voting hours when lines are long and forbidding registering and voting on the same day.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, noting Texas’ past and recent history of discrimination, has joined with plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state asking that Texas remain under pre-clearance. President Obama, meeting with civil rights leaders this week, made it clear that his administration would work to improve the Voting Rights Act legislatively and through the courts.
Needless to say, state officials are upset that the attorney general and the president would dare interfere with the way their sovereign governments conduct elections, even if their unsavory methods keep a few thousand people from having the opportunity to vote.
I’m proud of Holder for this action, and I’m particularly happy that he is using Texas as a test case. He has put Gov. Rick Perry, the attorney general and the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature on notice that overt discrimination will not be tolerated.
As people return to the National Mall to commemorate the march and King’s speech, they surely will carry with them a resolve that we will not allow the clock to be turned back.
King, in spirit and through a new monument on the mall, will be there to remind the nation that we will not be satisfied as a long as these states continue to prop up Jim Crow.
As he said that hot August day 50 years ago: “No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until, ‘justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
Email Mr. Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org.