Believe it or not “Whose humanity should be recognized?” is still up for debate. Republican legislatures all over the country are still trying to legally block people of color from voting. Over 200 bills have been put forth. The reason this has to be seen as a step toward disenfranchising voters is because there is no other reason for the move. According to reports from the election officials of Georgia and all over the country, this past 2020 election was the cleanest run election ever.

Several months ago, I wrote a series of essays titled “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The essays were concerning my personal battle to get the right to register to vote. They dealt with incidents that my family and my community were faced with in 1965, when efforts by activists were being made all over this country to make that privilege available to all citizens even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Thousands were jailed, beaten, bitten by dogs — and quite a few were killed — as that battle was being waged in every corner of America. Little places as small as my hometown Millett, South Carolina, and as large as Atlanta, Georgia, were all facing the same challenges.

The big question was should people of color be trusted at the ballot box. Should they be given that right — even though the courts had ruled it so? What qualifies them to be trusted to make a decision about our elected officials? In other words, is their humanity worth respecting?

Some were whispering that, if given the right to vote, the very next thing that people of color will be wanting is to run for election, and that is what we cannot allow to happen.

After the 15th Amendment in 1870, a very few Black men who were free and had never been slaves were allowed to vote, but they had to be owners of land and were called on to complete outlandish feats if they did report to the poll to vote. Some had to present poll tax papers along with being required to recite the Constitution. So, we can all imagine how many of them voted.

My year of interest was 1965. Even before that, women had put up a fight for the right to vote, which was granted in 1920. In reality, Blacks were not included in that group either.

Many Black women had fought and spoken for the rights of women to vote. Women across the country had fought hard battles and had suffered many abuses for doing so. Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth and thousands more Black women fought up to the day of the March on Washington in 1920. The leader of the White Suffrage group was pressed to tell the leader of the Black suffrage group, Ida B. Wells, and her ladies that they could not be seen in the march, even after the group had arrived in Washington.

On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the legal right to vote, was signed into law. But it did not end there. It is recorded that the Texas Woman’s University still celebrates that momentous day. However, the group stated that they only saw that as the beginning of a continuous battle in regard to voting rights for all. The “for all” is very significant because, as we can note, the fight continues today.

As a people working for a more perfect union, we realize that the battle wages on. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, women and men of all backgrounds and ethnicities sacrificed much ... as did Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Ida B. Wells, Viola Liuzzo, and as did Fannie Lou Hammer. These women had to fight men in the street and on their jobs as well as the husbands at home.

Thousands of unnamed individuals aided in the fight for universal suffrage. Despite this, the work needed to grant this right to men and women of color is still facing many obstacles today and in the foreseeable future. The law became the first in many steps along Americans’ journey to full voting rights for all people. Too many individuals and groups are desiring to cancel the law. Still, new voters rise with enduring tenacity to fight on this journey — standing on the shoulders of the many who marched on before.

The 15th Amendment states “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.” If this was ratified in 1870, the question is why is it still on the table in 2021?

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc. and a 2020 Heart of the Community Award of Honor recipient.

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