Saturday, January 22, 2022

A Liberal Dose, January 20, 2022 "'Seditious Insurrectionists' Need to Understand What Treason Is"

 


A Liberal Dose

January 20, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“’Seditious Insurrectionists’ Need to Understand What Treason Is”

 

Back in 2003, at the beginning of the war with Iraq, I was a student at Tech (I was late getting started) and a member of the College Democrats. We were opposed to the war -anyone paying attention could tell there were no weapons of mass destruction, and we were being fed a line as an excuse to invade. But that didn’t mean we were opposed to the men and women who were going to have to go do it. We started a drive to collect toiletries and phone cards to send to the troops overseas, and volunteered at a table in the university center to take donations. I will never forget the large number of fellow students who made a special effort to yell at us, swear at us, and deride us as traitors to America -because we were Democrats. That same year, Ann Coulter wrote a book (very popular in some circles) called Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terror.

That was not really the beginning, but it was certainly an early high (or low) point in the progression of conservatives not just disagreeing with liberals/progressives, but of viewing them as traitors who want to destroy America. And it has only intensified in the last decade. It is everywhere you look in a red state such as ours; television pundits, newspaper columns, and the guy you vaguely know on Facebook, all saying that you should arm yourself and be prepared to shoot your neighbors because they are “enemies of the Constitution.”

Here’s what I haven’t noticed much, though -specific allegations of specific “crimes” with any credible evidence to back them up. It mostly seems to be, “you’re a traitor because I say so” or “you’re a traitor because you don’t share my opinions” or “you’re a traitor because I saw something on Youtube.”

And yet. Here we are. In the midst of an investigation into an unruly mob (that was very intentionally stoked up) storming the Capitol, smearing their own feces on the wall, and making a very plausible attempt to assassinate the vice-president -all in effort to prevent Congress from certifying the electoral votes in an election that their candidate handily lost. Think about that -they were trying to prevent Congress from doing its constitutionally mandated job, while claiming they were doing so in order to defend the Constitution. You will find no promotion or defense of angry mobs violating the Constitution in the Constitution. An effort to change the outcome of a decided election, and therefore in effect overthrow the Constitutional government, is rightly defined as an insurrection.

In their case, there were clear laws being broken -and not just misdemeanors, or even serious assault, but treason against the Constitution. A lot of Trump voters who were embarrassed or dismayed on that day quickly changed their tunes, and started claiming that horrible scene was not a very big deal and was just tourists being excited.

The Justice Department has charged several individuals with “seditious conspiracy.” Seditious, if you didn’t know, means treasonous. The charge is that they “did knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree, with other persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury, by force to prevent, hinder, and delay the execution of any law of the United States.”

Every day, investigators are learning more about those “other persons” and the means by which they purposely laid the groundwork for insurrection. More arrests will come. And the perpetrators will continue to be people who think anyone who disagrees with them is a traitor -while they have supported or participated in literal sedition.

Maybe you think I’m harping on this topic too much. Well, it can’t be ignored or forgotten. We can’t just sweep it away. And everyone who supports the actions of that day needs to take a step back from the abyss and understand just what they encourage stepping into.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

 

A complete list of Liberal Dose columns can be found HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE   


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

A Liberal Dose, Jan. 13, 2022 "The Return of the Paxton Boys"

 



A Liberal Dose

January 13, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“The Return of the Paxton Boys”

 

On my first day back to work after the holidays, I ran into a student in the hallway who had taken one of my Native American history classes a couple of years ago. He said, “Who’d have thought the Paxton Boys would come back on January 6?” “Wow,” I said, “I hadn’t thought of it like that, but you’re right.”

The Paxton in question, also called Paxtang, was a small settlement in colonial Pennsylvania which is now a suburb of Harrisburg. To understand the movement that started there in 1763 we have to -you guessed it -have context.

1763 was a pretty important year. In February, a treaty had been signed in Paris that ended the French and Indian War, and a large part of France’s territory in North America was transferred to the victorious English. English colonists in the back-country of Pennsylvania, many of whom were of Scots-Irish descent, had very harsh feelings toward indigenous peoples after this war. Friction was increased by the fact that settlers were pouring into areas that technically were reserved for the local tribes, most of whom had not sided with the French and who had been living peacefully with their white neighbors for decades.

When the English took over “possession” of the lands between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River -the northern part of which, the Great Lakes region, was known collectively as the Ohio Country -the tribes there did not like the heavy hand that the English took with them (compared to the French, with whom they had gotten along). The result -within months -was the start of a new war in that territory. Several tribes united and attacked English forts and settlements. One of their principal leaders was an Ottawa chief named Pontiac (yes, the town is named after him, and therefore the car), so the conflict was known as “Pontiac’s Rebellion” or “Pontiac’s War.” It was a very bloody war, but it did not extend into Central Pennsylvania. However, the settlers there were unnerved by the knowledge of it, and that it was relatively close to them, after having just spent years fighting Indians. This was heightened by the fact that many settlers wanted the peaceful Indians in their area removed so they could have their land.

An angry mob formed in Paxton. There were no hostile Native Americans anywhere nearby, but one Native was the same as another to them. They attacked a small group of Conestoga Indians, most of whom were Christian converts and had never taken up arms against colonists. They killed several. Local authorities put the remaining Conestogas -numbering sixteen -in jail for their own protection, but the mob broke into the jail and killed all the adults, scalping and mutilating them. They then started roaming the countryside, looking for more Natives to vent their wrath on, gathering more and more followers from other towns as they went. They eventually numbered about 250, calling themselves “the Paxton Boys.”

The colonial government condemned their actions- so they marched on Philadelphia to vent their wrath on the government. They were met outside the city by a group of city leaders who tried to calm them down. One of those leaders was Benjamin Franklin, who gave a stirring speech that did, in fact, calm them. The city leaders agreed to read the rioters’ pamphlets and consider their complaints, and the mob dispersed and went home.

When I learned about this in school, and when I have taught about it afterwards, it has always been presented as a dark point in our history and a lesson in the dangers of mob rule. As a national embarrassment.

The insurrectionists of January 6 apparently never learned this lesson, and there was no Ben Franklin there to calm them down. If there had been, they would doubtless have beaten him with flagpoles and perhaps brained him with a fire extinguisher, because “freedom.”

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.


A complete list of Liberal Dose columns can be found HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE   

 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

A Liberal Dose, January 6 2022 "The Biggest Attack on Elections in American History"

 







Note: this is the culmination of a ten-part series on voting. To read the entire series in one document, click HERE



A Liberal Dose

January 6, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“The Biggest Attack on Elections in American History”

 

For years, the Republican party had been eroding their base’s confidence in the election system in order to justify passing state laws to restrict the opportunities of minorities to vote -primarily because they usually voted Democratic. Then Trump came along and magnified all that a hundredfold. He started by intensifying rhetoric demeaning minorities and immigrants, famously calling Haiti and African nations “s—t hole countries” and invoking Apocalyptic imagery in his inauguration to describe black and immigrant communities (“American carnage”, he called it).

He also, from the outset, made clear he would never concede any election he lost, because the only way he could lose an election is if there was fraud on the other side. This primed his followers, whom he stirred up with violent speech, to rebel if he did lose. As I described last week, at least two people in this county threatened me with violence if Trump lost in 2016. This does not even take into account the fact that Russia tried to intervene in our elections to Trump’s benefit, something which would have chilled most Americans to the bone in an earlier era.

All this combined to erode the public’s faith in democratic elections -which was Russia’s goal. Trump did not concede. Instead, he claimed fraud in practically every swing state, and brought countless lawsuits to throw out the votes of American citizens. However, there has been absolutely no evidence of widespread fraud presented, and some of Trump’s lawyers are now in danger of disbarment for making claims they knew were false, in order to erode faith in the election. Trump’s hardcore base -about 30% of America -were enraged at, and refused to accept, his loss. Trump’s slogan, “stop the steal,” was on the lips of millions.

We now know that Trump’s inner circle devised an elaborate plan to keep him in office despite losing the election. Alternate Trump electors illegally and secretly met in swing states he had lost, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, and filled out fraudulent slates. Trump and his cronies were convinced that VP Mike Pence had the authority to toss out electors from states that Trump claimed were fraudulent, and either toss the election decision to the legislature or perhaps approve the fraudulent electors instead. Pence was advised by former VP Dan Quayle that this was illegal, and he reported to his boss that he couldn’t do it. Trump inflamed the supporters at his DC rally, calling Biden an “illegitimate president” and saying “if you don’t fight like hell you won’t have a country anymore.”

We know what happened. A violent mob, trying to stop the official count of the electoral votes, attacked the Capitol. A makeshift scaffold was erected and people shouted “Hang Mike Pence!” Death threats were made against various Democratic legislators. Policemen were mercilessly beaten. People died. The Capitol was ransacked, with feces smeared on the wall. Legislators and police desperately called for national guard reinforcements, but they did not come for hours -because they were not given orders to come. Trump watched it all on TV, cheering the mob.

It certainly seems Trump wanted the insurrection to intensify, with more bloodshed. We know that he and his advisers discussed declaring martial law, using the violence as an excuse, and putting the army in charge of recounting votes.

This was a clear-cut attempt to overturn a legitimate election, and to overthrow the legitimate new government. It was the biggest attack on democracy and the Constitution in American history.

In its wake, using Trump supporters’ mistrust of the election as a reason (despite there being no evidence they are right), red states have passed even more restrictive voting laws (aimed at potential Democratic voters). Conservative politicians and media continue to repeat The Big Lie, further eroding their base’s trust in voting… and thereby setting up, potentially, even more violence at the next election. Which might work this time.

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

 

 A complete list of Liberal Dose columns can be found HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE   

 


A Brief History of Voting in America -from 1776 to January 6


A Brief History of Voting in America -from 1776 to January 6

by Troy D. Smith


Introduction: This collection of short (650 words each) essays appeared in my weekly column in the Sparta Expositor (Sparta, Tennessee), with the final one appearing in the January 6, 2022 issue- on the one-year anniversary of the Capitol Insurrection.


1.

“Who Could Vote in the 1700s?”


In November, most peoples’ thoughts (in the U.S., anyway) turn to two things: Thanksgiving, and voting. Among other things, we are taught from childhood to be thankful for liberty and freedom; the vote (sometimes referred to as “the franchise”) is a fundamental part of that freedom, and is therefore one of the things we should be most thankful for. “No taxation without representation” was one of the principles that led to the American Revolution and the creation of our nation. And yet, we probably take voting for granted more than just about any country. This is demonstrated by the fact that we have the lowest voter turnout anywhere in the western world. The right to vote was hard-fought and hard-won, with enormous struggle and sacrifice along the way, and if taken for granted could easily slip away. As Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a woman in the crowd asked him, “Well, what have you given us?” He responded, “A republic, madame, if you can keep it.”

Despite Thomas Jefferson’s assertion in the Declaration of Independence that “all men were created equal” (leaving women out entirely), not even all men were equal in the early republic where voting was concerned. Male slaves and male Native Americans, of course, did not have the franchise -but, and a lot of folks nowadays don’t realize this, neither did poor people. Each of the thirteen states continued the policy they had followed when they were colonies: you could only vote if you owned a certain amount of property. So, if you were a free, white male aged 21 or older but you worked in a factory, or were hired labor on a farm, or were in training for a trade, you had no voice. The people in power, though, looked at it differently. They would tell you that you DID have a voice- theirs. This was the same argument Parliament gave to the colonists in the lead-up to the Revolution. Elected officials represent the whole country (or county, or district), so they represent you and your interests -you’re just not allowed to participate. Patriots were not willing to settle for that, yet at first they, too, limited the franchise.

Their argument was that, if you have a landlord or an employer, you are not really independent; there was a good chance you would vote, not your own conscience, but the will of the person who controlled your livelihood or your living conditions. A person of property, on the other hand, had an investment in the community and could be trusted to have a broader view. Interestingly, in the early days of the southern colonies -and in 10 of the first 13 states (Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina being the exceptions) -a free black man, if he owned property, could vote (free blacks had been able to vote in Virginia in the mid-1600s). This means that a free black man with a sizeable farm or a business in North Carolina could vote when many white men in his community could not. Race was obviously a major factor in his life, but -at the time -so was class.

And so, too, was religion. Among the original 13 colonies, when they were colonies, only New York allowed Jewish people to vote. This changed when the new republic was established -but not everywhere. Jews were still not allowed to vote in many states, especially in the South. Those states argued that the Constitutional ban on having religious requirements to hold office applied on the federal level, not the state. Maryland was the last state to pass a law allowing non-Christians to vote, in 1826. Its many critics called it “The Jew Bill.”

For the first 50 years of America, then, only roughly 10 to 20 percent of citizens could vote. Next, we’ll examine how that started to change -positively, for some, but not for all.


2.

“Race and Class”

 

Last week we discussed how, in the early days of the country, there were many restrictions on voting. Not only could women, slaves, and Native Americans not vote, but even among white men only those with substantial property could cast a ballot. Surprisingly, free black men who met the minimum property requirement could vote in 10 of the 13 original states (excluding Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina).

In the 1790s, after the Constitution and the government it mandated went into effect, property requirements became unpopular. There was more emphasis on individual liberty, and a man’s ownership of his own person and his own labor became, in the eyes of many, as important as the ownership of real estate. The first new state admitted to the Union, Vermont (in 1791), guaranteed the vote to all men regardless of color or wealth. When Kentucky was admitted the following year, they made the same guarantees. Also in 1792, original states Delaware and New Hampshire removed property requirements; no new state admitted to the Union after 1800 had them. By 1825 only three states still had property requirements for white males: Virginia, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Virginia’s requirement was $25, or $788 in today’s money; Rhode Island’s was $132, or $4,200 today. A few states in the north allowed Native Americans to vote IF they owned property, and several states that did not have property requirements for white men in general still applied them to white men who were foreign-born or did not speak English, making immigrants second-class citizens.

This trend toward eliminating property requirements for white men in the 1820s helps explain the rise of Andrew Jackson, who won the popular vote in 1824 and the electoral college in 1828. Andrew Jackson was the seventh president, but he was the first who had come from a working-class background. Yes, he had become wealthy by the 1820s, but he had literally been born in a log cabin whereas all six of his predecessors had come from privileged, wealthy families. Jackson appealed to the “common man,” famously opening up the White House to the general public during his inauguration (to the dismay of many Washington elites). Every presidential candidate after Jackson would have to find ways to appeal to the average white male voter, rather than just to the wealthy and middle-class, and this would fundamentally change politics.

While the status of unpropertied white men was rising, however, that of propertied free black men was falling. Within a couple of years of Kentucky coming into the Union as a state that allowed free black men the franchise, the state rescinded it. Other Southern states began following suit -but so did Northern states, as well. Those who did not ban the black vote outright kept property requirements attached to it, even though they had been removed from white voters. For example, New York removed property requirements for white men in 1821, but raised it for free blacks -to $250, or almost $8,000 dollars today. This was about double the average farmer’s annual income. Only 16 black men in New York were wealthy enough to vote that year. By 1825, only 68 of the 13,000 free black men in the state could meet the requirement.

By 1860, free black men had the equal right to vote in only five states, all of them in New England. Why were their rights diminishing over time?

The answer is simple: cotton. Eli Whitney’s new invention the cotton gin -invented in 1793, the year after Kentucky became a state -immediately started making cotton a profitable crop to grow. By the 1820s it dominated the U.S. economy, eventually making up half of all exports. Cotton’s profitability meant new life, and new protections, for slavery. Restricting the rights of free blacks served to reinforce the color barrier that made slavery easier to maintain.

Race had become more important than class.


3.

“Women’s Suffrage”

 

We’ve been talking about voting rights the last couple of weeks, and have mostly focused on how class and race determined which men could vote. Now we’ll turn our attention to the other half of the population: women. Specifically, we will discuss women’s suffrage. “Suffrage” means being allowed to do something. Remember, in the King James wording Jesus said “suffer the little children to come to me”…he didn’t mean make them suffer, he meant allow them. This wording is, in itself, significant: the question was not whether women had the right to vote, it was whether the men should “allow” them to do so, which speaks volumes.

Women were already asserting their rights as this country was being formed. In March of 1776, while John Adams was away from his Massachusetts home to help hammer out a declaration of independence in Philadelphia, his wife Abigail made her thoughts clear in her letters to him.

“And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

A few years later, in 1792, English philosopher Mary Wallstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in which she argued that women are the equals of men. In fact, her daughter, Mary Shelley, would essentially found the modern science-fiction and horror genres in 1818 with her novel Frankenstein.

Nonetheless, these were individuals, not a movement. Women started to get actively involved in American social and reform movements in the 1820s and 1830s, initially in defense of others. Many women, especially in the North, contributed to the movement protesting Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears. Quite a few of them moved from that action to joining the drive to abolish slavery. Quite a few women were prominent figures in abolition, from Harriet Beecher Stowe to the Southern-born Grimke sisters. In the process of defending the rights of minorities, more and more women came to realize that they, too, were treated as second class citizens.

Some argue that the women’s movement started in 1840, when the American abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott traveled to London for an anti-slavery convention- and were not allowed in because they were women. They organized the first women’s rights convention, at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Soon joined by Susan B. Antony, they began organizing to gain the vote for women. At the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio in 1851, an ex-slave and feminist named Sojourner Truth gave a powerful speech called “Ain’t I a Woman?” She asked the audience, where did Jesus come from? God, and a woman. “Man ain’t had nothin’ to do with it.”

It was a long, hard-fought process… and a slow one. Interestingly, many Western states allowed women to vote in state and local elections, beginning with Wyoming in 1869 and Utah in 1870. But in most of the country women had to keep protesting. The 19th Amendment, passed in 1919, finally guaranteed women the right to vote (Tennessee’s ratification of the amendment was the one which officially passed it). Former slaves got the right to vote soon after the Civil War, so for half-a-century black men could vote while all women could not.

From that first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls to the 1920 national election, the first in which women could vote, 72 years had passed. 72 years of tireless work, inconvenience, incarceration, and sometimes enduring physical violence.

May they never be forgotten.

 


4.

“Native Americans”

 

As our look at the history of voting has been chronological, the next topic after last week’s discussion at the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement would be what are called “the Reconstruction Amendments.” That refers to amendments 13, 14, and 15, all passed in the first few years after the end of the Civil War. #13 ended slavery or any other form of involuntary servitude, except in prison. #14 specified that anyone born within the geographic boundaries of the U.S. was a citizen, with all the rights of any other citizen. That amendment was meant to specify that the newly-freed slaves could be citizens and vote. Finally, #15 guaranteed that no citizen could be denied their voting rights “because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Since this is Thanksgiving week, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at what this meant for Native Americans, and save our discussion of African Americans until next week.

What did these amendments mean to Native people? Absolutely nothing. They were not considered citizens, although born in the country. They could be denied the vote because of their race or color. They were literally the only people the 14th amendment did not apply to. Why? Because they were considered members of their tribe, which was separate from the United States even though it was physically within the United States. The government considered tribes “dependent nations” and “wards of the state.”

Think about that for a minute. Indigenous people have been called “American Indians” and “Native Americans”… but they were not considered Americans. This started to change, oddly enough, as a result of World War I.

A large number of Native Americans -including quite a few women -volunteered to serve in the U.S. military during the war. Unlike black troops of the time, or Japanese-American troops in WWII, they were not put into segregated units; they were scattered among the regular units, with the white soldiers. And there were a large number of them. In fact, in every American military conflict since WWI, Native Americans have had the highest proportional enlistment rates. The first “code talkers” were used in WWI, mostly Choctaws, while the more famous Navajo ones served in WWII. It was a way to celebrate their own military/warrior culture, and was also a way to show they were every bit as American as anybody else.

Odds are, just about every company had a few “Indians.” Their white comrades got to see that they had not become extinct, that they were patriotic, and that they were brave. When the war was over, as people learned that the Native people they had fought beside could not vote, there was an outcry. In 1919 citizenship and the vote were given to all Native war veterans. It was a start, but it was not enough. Finally, in 1924, Congress conferred full citizenship on Native American people. This happened 148 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which had called them “merciless savages.”

Just because a Native person was legally allowed to vote, though, did not mean he or she would be physically allowed to vote. In states that had large indigenous populations -in the West and in Alaska -the Native vote was suppressed for decades, in much the same way the black vote was suppressed in the South: through violence, intimidation, coercion, deception, and general chicanery.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and know that it was passed to protect the voting rights of African Americans in the South. What you might not know is that it was also meant to protect the voting rights of Native Americans in the West. Legislatures in some western states still pass laws specifically designed to make it harder for Natives to vote.

This Thanksgiving, think about how little honor and appreciation have been shown to the first Americans.


5.

“Reconstruction”

 

Last week we talked about the Reconstruction Amendments. Now we’re going to look at how they affected the voting rights of African Americans. The 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865 (the Civil War had ended in April), ended slavery. President Andrew Johnson (of Tennessee) had initiated a Reconstruction program that was remarkably conciliatory to Southern states, which did not abridge the voting rights of former Confederates and allowed them to reinstate their local and state governments -this led to, essentially, the same people being in charge as had been before the war, and every Southern state drew up “black codes” to control the newly freed back population. For example, black workers were required to call their employer “master” and were forbidden to quit their job without the employer’s permission. Any who did so would be hunted down by “negro catchers” and forced to return. Children could be forcibly taken from their parents and apprenticed out until adulthood. African Americans were not allowed to buy alcohol or bear arms, could be publicly beaten for insolence to a white person, were not allowed out after dark without papers from their employer, and were required by law to work from dawn to dusk. They were not allowed to vote.

In other words, they were still slaves, except in name.

Many Northerners were outraged by this turn of events. It felt like the war had been fought for nothing, as the South seemed to have mostly returned to the pre-war status quo. This motivated voters in the 1866 midterm elections to turn out many Democrats and moderate Republicans, and sweep in a large number of what “radical Republicans” who were determined to impose stricter rules on the South. The radical Republicans gained a supermajority, enabling them to overturn any vetoes President Johnson made (they also impeached him, though he managed to stay in office -but his power was broken.) They imposed much a much stricter regimen of Reconstruction, keeping the former Confederate states under military occupation and martial law -and enforcing the newly acquired rights of the freed slaves, including the right to vote.

The 14th Amendment, ratified on July 8, 1868, declared that everyone born in the United States was a citizen, and therefore had all the rights of a citizen. Therefore, in the presidential election of that year, African Americans could vote. In most Southern states, though, any white men who had served in the Confederate government or as officers in the Confederate military could not vote, or hold public office. This lasted for several years. Not only was Republican U. S. Grant elected president in 1868, but all through the South black men were voted into public office: as magistrates, city councilmen, state legislators -and several were elected to Congress. Jefferson Davis’s old Mississippi U. S. senate seat was won by a black man named Hiram Revels. Even beyond the advances made by African Americans, Republicans in general won big throughout the South.

It is important to remember that, at that time, Democrats were the more conservative party and radical Republicans were what we today would call liberal. Most white Southerners did not like Republicans, and especially did not like seeing them get elected. Paramilitary groups sprang up to prevent Republicans from voting -groups like the Red Shirts, the White League, and the Ku Klux Klan. They focused mostly on black voters, but also hated white Republicans -whether they were “carpetbaggers” (transplanted northerners) or “scalawags” (southern-born but supportive of Reconstruction and black rights). You know their tactics. They would intimidate people -especially black people -by burning their property (burning crosses didn’t come until the 1900s), beating people up, and often committing murder. In 1871, Congress passed “the Ku Klux Klan Act”, further empowering the federal government to enforce the 14th amendment and the more recent 15th (February 3, 1870) -to protect black voters.

Until 1877, when everything changed.


6.

"The Jim Crow South"

 

Last time, we talked about voting and Reconstruction, and how the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments freed slaves, made them citizens, and guaranteed their right to vote. This added half-a-million black men to the voter rolls, and led to the election of 2,000 black men to public office in the South. Federal troops were on hand during that period to enforce the law.

When Reconstruction ended in 1877, though, those troops were withdrawn. State and local governments then had free rein to adjust their voting laws, while violence and intimidation prevented black Southerners from exercising their rights. Lynching became commonplace, with no legal action against the killers. Historians call the period between 1877 and the 1920s The Nadir, or low point, in African American history. Worse than slavery? In many ways, yes. During slavery, any random white person on the street could not kill a black person because they didn’t like their looks and face no consequences -because, horrible as it is, they would have been destroying a wealthy person’s property. White people who murdered freed slaves during Reconstruction had to hope they didn’t get caught by the federal authorities, because they would possibly face a military tribunal. But in the Jim Crow era, black people could be killed on a whim and, even if the killer was arrested, an all-white jury would almost never convict him.

Local and state governments, starting in the 1890s (when segregation became the norm), could look for loopholes in the 15th amendment, which said voting rights can’t be denied because of race. New laws were passed which, although they did not specifically mention race, targeted black voters. Poll taxes required a payment to vote, and most black citizens had little money (this was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court -much later). Literacy laws required you to pass a reading test to vote -it had been illegal to teach slaves to read, and few freed people could. Wouldn’t these laws also affect poor whites? Potentially, but poll workers were often selective about who they applied the laws to, and there was a “grandfather clause” -even if you were illiterate and poor, if your grandfather had been a registered voter in the state you could be, too. This excluded almost all black people.

Because all these tactics did not specifically mention race, they had “plausible deniability” to claim they did not violate the 15th amendment… but it was an “open secret” what the reasons for them were. Politician James Vardaman said in 1890, “In Mississippi we have in our constitution legislated against the peculiarities of the Negro… when that device fails, we will resort to something else.” Alabama delegate John Knox said in 1901, “The convention’s goal is to establish white supremacy in the State, within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution.”

Add to those legal tactics the prevalent violence against black people, and you get a predictable end result. By 1940, in some Deep South states only 2% of eligible black people were registered to vote. Voting could get you killed, after all, and the deck was so stacked that your vote probably wouldn’t be counted anyhow.

Courts of the time often upheld these laws. There is a great new book out, “Justice Deferred”, that tracks that phenomenon. It is co-written by my mentor Orville Vernon Burton (one of the country’s top scholars on Reconstruction and civil rights) and Armand Derfner, and I recommend it highly. I also recommend Burton’s book “The Age of Lincoln.”

This, then, is the situation that existed in the South at the end of WWII. Black people were guaranteed their rights, including voting, by those constitutional amendments -but in reality, they were blocked from exercising them by corrupt local and state laws tailored specifically to exclude them, using whatever constitutional loopholes possible.

For the rest of this series of columns, we will bring it to the present.


7.

The Civil Rights Era”

 

Last time, we talked about voting rights in the Jim Crow South and the fact that, via a combination of local laws that circumvented the 15th Amendment and physical violence or intimidation, most African Americans (and some poor white people) were not allowed to vote in Southern states. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, civil rights activists had been struggling to end segregation, but by the early 1960s they were focusing heavily on the right to vote. In Mississippi in 1962, only around 6% of eligible black voters were registered to vote (despite being one-third of the state’s population). Several civil rights groups came together under the umbrella of a newly formed coalition, The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), to change that. The “federated organizations” in question were the Southern Christian Leadership Society (SCLC), led by MLK; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snik”); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), who had organized the first “freedom rides” in 1947.

COFO embarked on a ten-week project known as “Freedom Summer,” in which they endeavored to register as many black voters in Mississippi as possible. The work was done by a combination of local African American activists and allies, black and white, from around the country. They were opposed by groups like the White Leagues and the Ku Klux Klan, by many white locals who may or may not have been affiliated with those organizations (and who frequently described the civil rights workers as “trash”), and by state and local government officials. Before the summer was out, over a thousand COFO volunteers had been arrested, 80 had been beaten, and 30 churches and 37 black-owned homes and businesses had been bombed or burned down.

On June 21, 1964, three young men who were engaged in voter registration work were arrested by a sheriff’s deputy who was also a Klansman. They were James Chaney, a local black man, and two young Jewish volunteers from New York City, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. They were released from jail after dark, whereupon they were ambushed by Klansmen, abducted, and murdered. It took weeks to find their bodies; while combing the swamps for them, searchers found the bodies of 8 other murdered black males, killed recently.

It is a sad commentary, but a truth, that the murder of two white students from New York attracted a lot more media attention than the murders of nine black men from Mississippi. Press coverage of the incidents drew the country’s attention to the lack of voting rights African Americans still suffered in the South -and the country was still reeling from the events of the previous late spring/summer (1963). From May to September of that year, TV viewers across the country had seen Bull Connor using attack dogs on black children in Birmingham, Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers was shot dead in his driveway, and four little girls were killed in a church bombing (also in Birmingham). People were calling for something to be done.

And the next year, something was: Congress passed, and LBJ signed into law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The VRA expanded the federal government’s ability to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments. It outlawed literacy tests or any similar methods, and prohibited state and local governments from passing voting laws that disadvantaged minorities. It also specified a special status for all states that had allowed any such disadvantaging techniques in the previous five years (to be revisited regularly) -which were mostly in the South and West. In such states, no changes to local or state laws about voting could be made without the approval of the U.S. attorney general or the U.S. district court in Washington, DC. That last item protected minorities and greatly expanded their (constitutionally guaranteed) access to the ballot.

Until a Supreme Court decision in 2013.


8.

“What’s the Big Deal about Voter ID?”

 

I spent the last seven columns describing the history of voting in America. It was details everyone should know, but it was also written to provide context for what I’m writing next, which is a brief look at voting problems in the present. You can’t understand the present without understanding the past. If you want to refresh your memory, you can see the previous columns at SpartaLive.com or at my blogsite, tnwordsmith.blogspot.com.

So, let’s talk about voter ID, something that has become a hotly debated topic this past decade. The first time I heard about it as an issue was in 2005, at a Southern History conference. I met a man who had been a civil rights lawyer in Georgia since the 1960s, and was about to retire. He was angry about that state crafting a voter ID law, and warned that other conservative states would do the same in coming years -and that it was one of the biggest civil rights challenges coming around the bend, one which could undo years of work.

My reaction was probably the same one many of you would have, or have had. What’s the big deal about Voter ID, I asked. That doesn’t seem like a problem. You need ID to do practically anything nowadays. And wouldn’t it prevent fraud?

Almost all the states with voter ID laws lean conservative. The reason they give is to prevent voter fraud, which sounds reasonable. But there is absolutely no empirical evidence of widespread voter fraud. When you do something to address a problem that is not really a problem… that is not really the problem you are addressing, it is a cover up.

11% of adult Americans don’t have a driver’s license or other government-issued ID… but 25% of black Americans don’t. Why not? Many live in large cities, where a car -a big expense for a poor person -is not necessary. Now, going to GET an ID -even if the ID itself is free -costs time and money. Sometimes an applicant has to travel a considerable distance (and they don’t have a car). In order to get the ID you have to have a lot of paperwork- which often does cost money to get. Travel and long lines mean the process could take several hours. If you have ever been among the working poor (and I have), missing a day of work might mean not being able to pay your bills. Altogether, the process could cost a poor person $100 or more. Therefore, voter ID laws suppress voter turnout among poor people.

Remember our earlier column about how voting laws during the Jim Crow era suppressed the black vote by making it expensive to do so? And how that was an end-around to suppress black turnout without mentioning the word “race”?

Sound farfetched? In 2012, a GOP leader in Pennsylvania said, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Literally the day after the Supreme Court took away the Voting Rights Act restriction on formerly segregated states changing voter laws without federal approval (in 2013), North Carolina issued a voting law that courts have repeatedly struck down, saying it specifically targets black voters. Additionally, records were discovered which showed that Republican NC legislators had approved a study of voting habits in black neighborhoods, and specifically curtailed only the voting procedures frequently used there. In addition to the Voter ID element, some states have closed polling places, making it necessary to take a longer trip and wait in line perhaps all day to vote… with similar tactics for sites to obtain an ID. Maybe this is not about race as much as suppressing votes in Democratic districts, but the effect is the same.

What if every state with voter ID laws made getting them, and voting, easier instead of harder? More sites, free transportation? But they don’t.

Why?


9.

“The Present Attack on Voting in America”

 

Last time I discussed how voter ID laws disproportionately affect poor people -the elderly, the working poor, and people of color -and cases of GOP politicians admitting (or facing proof) that their initiatives were meant to favor their own party in elections, because those affected adversely the most were in groups that voted Democratic. Especially African Americans. I also pointed out a Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that removed protections against discrimination enshrined in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The conservative judges who voted in favor of that action explained that racial discrimination is no longer an issue in the 21st century, since after all we had a black president at the time, so those laws were no longer needed. Like dominos, red state legislatures immediately started passing laws restricting voting that primarily affected African American voters and districts.

At around the same time, conservative politicians and media started raising a cry about another alleged problem: “illegal aliens” in large numbers voting in national elections (which, of course, is illegal). This cry has persisted; just recently I have seen several headlines claiming Democrats are soft on immigration because they want to let in a huge number of undocumented immigrants whom they encourage to vote illegally. Statistics have shown that, from 2000 to 2011, there were just 56 cases of noncitizens voting. Again, a matter of calling for solutions to a problem that does not exist. I don’t know about you, but every undocumented immigrant I’ve ever known would bend over backwards to avoid drawing attention to themselves or doing anything risky. Like brazenly going down to the polling station knowing it was illegal. There have been a lot of conservative claims in the last few years of huge numbers of such incidents, but without any documentation (ironically). Sure, there are a few individual cases you can point to, but no evidence of it happening in significant numbers. I’ve probably seen as many reports of Republicans getting caught double-voting for Trump.

Numbers don’t seem to matter, though, as the goal is to evoke fear in the Republican base AND to erode faith in the voting process, all with a view to restricting the vote of minorities who might vote Democratic. Notice that the swing-state cities that Trump targeted as centers of massive voter fraud, whose votes should not count, were primarily cities with large black populations (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit). Again, I remind you of those Jim Crow tactics we discussed earlier.

Since I brought up the T-word, let’s discuss Donald Trump: he took all the dog whistles and plausible deniabilities that Republicans had been using since Nixon and amplified them, taking direct aim at the integrity of the American voting process. Remember when every Republican candidate was willing to swear that they would accept the results of the primary… except Trump? He believes that the only possible way he could lose any election is if the other side cheated. By announcing ahead of time that he would never concede any election, because his loss would be proof of voter fraud, he was priming his supporters, too, to refuse to believe the numbers if he lost. This goes against a long tradition of the losers in very close elections conceding defeat to avoid dividing the country. This divides the country in advance.

The day before the election in November, 2016, polls said Hillary Clinton was going to win. This enraged many Trump voters, because it was proof to them that the election was being “stolen.” I made a mild comment on a friend’s Facebook page that day, and I received physical threats. Someone I knew personally and thought of as a friend said that if Trump lost the next day he would lead a group of people to my house to beat me up. Another, whom I barely knew, threatened to come after me with a gun.

This was only the beginning.

 

10.

“The Biggest Attack on Elections in American History”

 

For years, the Republican party had been eroding their base’s confidence in the election system in order to justify passing state laws to restrict the opportunities of minorities to vote -primarily because they usually voted Democratic. Then Trump came along and magnified all that a hundredfold. He started by intensifying rhetoric demeaning minorities and immigrants, famously calling Haiti and African nations “s—t hole countries” and invoking Apocalyptic imagery in his inauguration to describe black and immigrant communities (“American carnage”, he called it).

He also, from the outset, made clear he would never concede any election he lost, because the only way he could lose an election is if there was fraud on the other side. This primed his followers, whom he stirred up with violent speech, to rebel if he did lose. As I described last week, at least two people in this county threatened me with violence if Trump lost in 2016. This does not even take into account the fact that Russia tried to intervene in our elections to Trump’s benefit, something which would have chilled most Americans to the bone in an earlier era.

All this combined to erode the public’s faith in democratic elections -which was Russia’s goal. Trump did not concede. Instead, he claimed fraud in practically every swing state, and brought countless lawsuits to throw out the votes of American citizens. However, there has been absolutely no evidence of widespread fraud presented, and some of Trump’s lawyers are now in danger of disbarment for making claims they knew were false, in order to erode faith in the election. Trump’s hardcore base -about 30% of America -were enraged at, and refused to accept, his loss. Trump’s slogan, “stop the steal,” was on the lips of millions.

We now know that Trump’s inner circle devised an elaborate plan to keep him in office despite losing the election. Alternate Trump electors illegally and secretly met in swing states he had lost, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, and filled out fraudulent slates. Trump and his cronies were convinced that VP Mike Pence had the authority to toss out electors from states that Trump claimed were fraudulent, and either toss the election decision to the legislature or perhaps approve the fraudulent electors instead. Pence was advised by former VP Dan Quayle that this was illegal, and he reported to his boss that he couldn’t do it. Trump inflamed the supporters at his DC rally, calling Biden an “illegitimate president” and saying “if you don’t fight like hell you won’t have a country anymore.”

We know what happened. A violent mob, trying to stop the official count of the electoral votes, attacked the Capitol. A makeshift scaffold was erected and people shouted “Hang Mike Pence!” Death threats were made against various Democratic legislators. Policemen were mercilessly beaten. People died. The Capitol was ransacked, with feces smeared on the wall. Legislators and police desperately called for national guard reinforcements, but they did not come for hours -because they were not given orders to come. Trump watched it all on TV, cheering the mob.

It certainly seems Trump wanted the insurrection to intensify, with more bloodshed. We know that he and his advisers discussed declaring martial law, using the violence as an excuse, and putting the army in charge of recounting votes.

This was a clear-cut attempt to overturn a legitimate election, and to overthrow the legitimate new government. It was the biggest attack on democracy and the Constitution in American history.

In its wake, using Trump supporters’ mistrust of the election as a reason (despite there being no evidence they are right), red states have passed even more restrictive voting laws (aimed at potential Democratic voters). Conservative politicians and media continue to repeat The Big Lie, further eroding their base’s trust in voting… and thereby setting up, potentially, even more violence at the next election. Which might work this time.


--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

 A complete list of Liberal Dose columns can be found HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

A Liberal Dose, December 30, 2021 "The Present Attack on Voting in America"

 



A Liberal Dose

December 30, 2021

Troy D. Smith

“The Present Attack on Voting in America”

 

Last time I discussed how voter ID laws disproportionately affect poor people -the elderly, the working poor, and people of color -and cases of GOP politicians admitting (or facing proof) that their initiatives were meant to favor their own party in elections, because those affected adversely the most were in groups that voted Democratic. Especially African Americans. I also pointed out a Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that removed protections against discrimination enshrined in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The conservative judges who voted in favor of that action explained that racial discrimination is no longer an issue in the 21st century, since after all we had a black president at the time, so those laws were no longer needed. Like dominos, red state legislatures immediately started passing laws restricting voting that primarily affected African American voters and districts.

At around the same time, conservative politicians and media started raising a cry about another alleged problem: “illegal aliens” in large numbers voting in national elections (which, of course, is illegal). This cry has persisted; just recently I have seen several headlines claiming Democrats are soft on immigration because they want to let in a huge number of undocumented immigrants whom they encourage to vote illegally. Statistics have shown that, from 2000 to 2011, there were just 56 cases of noncitizens voting. Again, a matter of calling for solutions to a problem that does not exist. I don’t know about you, but every undocumented immigrant I’ve ever known would bend over backwards to avoid drawing attention to themselves or doing anything risky. Like brazenly going down to the polling station knowing it was illegal. There have been a lot of conservative claims in the last few years of huge numbers of such incidents, but without any documentation (ironically). Sure, there are a few individual cases you can point to, but no evidence of it happening in significant numbers. I’ve probably seen as many reports of Republicans getting caught double-voting for Trump.

Numbers don’t seem to matter, though, as the goal is to evoke fear in the Republican base AND to erode faith in the voting process, all with a view to restricting the vote of minorities who might vote Democratic. Notice that the swing-state cities that Trump targeted as centers of massive voter fraud, whose votes should not count, were primarily cities with large black populations (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit). Again, I remind you of those Jim Crow tactics we discussed earlier.

Since I brought up the T-word, let’s discuss Donald Trump: he took all the dog whistles and plausible deniabilities that Republicans had been using since Nixon and amplified them, taking direct aim at the integrity of the American voting process. Remember when every Republican candidate was willing to swear that they would accept the results of the primary… except Trump? He believes that the only possible way he could lose any election is if the other side cheated. By announcing ahead of time that he would never concede any election, because his loss would be proof of voter fraud, he was priming his supporters, too, to refuse to believe the numbers if he lost. This goes against a long tradition of the losers in very close elections conceding defeat to avoid dividing the country. This divides the country in advance.

The day before the election in November, 2016, polls said Hillary Clinton was going to win. This enraged many Trump voters, because it was proof to them that the election was being “stolen.” I made a mild comment on a friend’s Facebook page that day, and I received physical threats. Someone I knew personally and thought of as a friend said that if Trump lost the next day he would lead a group of people to my house to beat me up. Another, whom I barely knew, threatened to come after me with a gun.

This was only the beginning.

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

 

A complete list of Liberal Dose columns can be found HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE   

Monday, December 27, 2021

A Liberal Dose, Dec. 23, 2021 "What's the Big Deal about Voter ID?"

 


A Liberal Dose

December 23, 2021

Troy D. Smith

“What’s the Big Deal about Voter ID?”

 

I spent the last seven columns describing the history of voting in America. It was details everyone should know, but it was also written to provide context for what I’m writing next, which is a brief look at voting problems in the present. You can’t understand the present without understanding the past. If you want to refresh your memory, you can see the previous columns at SpartaLive.com or at my blogsite, tnwordsmith.blogspot.com.

So, let’s talk about voter ID, something that has become a hotly debated topic this past decade. The first time I heard about it as an issue was in 2005, at a Southern History conference. I met a man who had been a civil rights lawyer in Georgia since the 1960s, and was about to retire. He was angry about that state crafting a voter ID law, and warned that other conservative states would do the same in coming years -and that it was one of the biggest civil rights challenges coming around the bend, one which could undo years of work.

My reaction was probably the same one many of you would have, or have had. What’s the big deal about Voter ID, I asked. That doesn’t seem like a problem. You need ID to do practically anything nowadays. And wouldn’t it prevent fraud?

Almost all the states with voter ID laws lean conservative. The reason they give is to prevent voter fraud, which sounds reasonable. But there is absolutely no empirical evidence of widespread voter fraud. When you do something to address a problem that is not really a problem… that is not really the problem you are addressing, it is a cover up.

11% of adult Americans don’t have a driver’s license or other government-issued ID… but 25% of black Americans don’t. Why not? Many live in large cities, where a car -a big expense for a poor person -is not necessary. Now, going to GET an ID -even if the ID itself is free -costs time and money. Sometimes an applicant has to travel a considerable distance (and they don’t have a car). In order to get the ID you have to have a lot of paperwork- which often does cost money to get. Travel and long lines mean the process could take several hours. If you have ever been among the working poor (and I have), missing a day of work might mean not being able to pay your bills. Altogether, the process could cost a poor person $100 or more. Therefore, voter ID laws suppress voter turnout among poor people.

Remember our earlier column about how voting laws during the Jim Crow era suppressed the black vote by making it expensive to do so? And how that was an end-around to suppress black turnout without mentioning the word “race”?

Sound farfetched? In 2012, a GOP leader in Pennsylvania said, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Literally the day after the Supreme Court took away the Voting Rights Act restriction on formerly segregated states changing voter laws without federal approval (in 2013), North Carolina issued a voting law that courts have repeatedly struck down, saying it specifically targets black voters. Additionally, records were discovered which showed that Republican NC legislators had approved a study of voting habits in black neighborhoods, and specifically curtailed only the voting procedures frequently used there. In addition to the Voter ID element, some states have closed polling places, making it necessary to take a longer trip and wait in line perhaps all day to vote… with similar tactics for sites to obtain an ID. Maybe this is not about race as much as suppressing votes in Democratic districts, but the effect is the same.

What if every state with voter ID laws made getting them, and voting, easier instead of harder? More sites, free transportation? But they don’t.

Why?

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

A complete list of Liberal Dose columns can be found HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE   



Thursday, December 16, 2021

A Liberal Dose, December 16, 2021 "Voting History Part 7- the Civil Rights Era"

 


A Liberal Dose

December 16, 2021

Troy D. Smith

“History of Voting, Part 7: The Civil Rights Era”


Read PART 1

Read PART 2

Read PART 3

Read PART 4

Read PART 5

Read PART 6

 

Last time, we talked about voting rights in the Jim Crow South and the fact that, via a combination of local laws that circumvented the 15th Amendment and physical violence or intimidation, most African Americans (and some poor white people) were not allowed to vote in Southern states. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, civil rights activists had been struggling to end segregation, but by the early 1960s they were focusing heavily on the right to vote. In Mississippi in 1962, only around 6% of eligible black voters were registered to vote (despite being one-third of the state’s population). Several civil rights groups came together under the umbrella of a newly formed coalition, The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), to change that. The “federated organizations” in question were the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), led by MLK; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snik”); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), who had organized the first “freedom rides” in 1947.

COFO embarked on a ten-week project known as “Freedom Summer,” in which they endeavored to register as many black voters in Mississippi as possible. The work was done by a combination of local African American activists and allies, black and white, from around the country. They were opposed by groups like the White Leagues and the Ku Klux Klan, by many white locals who may or may not have been affiliated with those organizations (and who frequently described the civil rights workers as “trash”), and by state and local government officials. Before the summer was out, over a thousand COFO volunteers had been arrested, 80 had been beaten, and 30 churches and 37 black-owned homes and businesses had been bombed or burned down.

On June 21, 1964, three young men who were engaged in voter registration work were arrested by a sheriff’s deputy who was also a Klansman. They were James Chaney, a local black man, and two young Jewish volunteers from New York City, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. They were released from jail after dark, whereupon they were ambushed by Klansmen, abducted, and murdered. It took weeks to find their bodies; while combing the swamps for them, searchers found the bodies of 8 other murdered black males, killed recently.

It is a sad commentary, but a truth, that the murder of two white students from New York attracted a lot more media attention than the murders of nine black men from Mississippi. Press coverage of the incidents drew the country’s attention to the lack of voting rights African Americans still suffered in the South -and the country was still reeling from the events of the previous late spring/summer (1963). From May to September of that year, TV viewers across the country had seen Bull Connor using attack dogs on black children in Birmingham, Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers was shot dead in his driveway, and four little girls were killed in a church bombing (also in Birmingham). People were calling for something to be done.

And the next year, something was: Congress passed, and LBJ signed into law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The VRA expanded the federal government’s ability to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments. It outlawed literacy tests or any similar methods, and prohibited state and local governments from passing voting laws that disadvantaged minorities. It also specified a special status for all states that had allowed any such disadvantaging techniques in the previous five years (to be revisited regularly) -which were mostly in the South and West. In such states, no changes to local or state laws about voting could be made without the approval of the U.S. attorney general or the U.S. district court in Washington, DC. That last item protected minorities and greatly expanded their (constitutionally guaranteed) access to the ballot.

Until a Supreme Court decision in 2013.

 

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.


A complete list of Liberal Dose columns can be found HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE