This morning on Election Day, I was listening to this powerful NPR podcast about Frederick Douglass and the sacred right to vote.
Douglass, as everyone probably knows, was a fugitive slave who became a prominent orator, author and activist in the anti-slavery movement. For more on the life of Frederick Douglass, read the book Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight (Simon and Shuster, 2018). That book won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for History.
Douglass believed strongly that democracy and the freedom that democracy promised would be sustained by the right to vote. Here are some great quotes from Frederick Douglass.
I have had but one idea for the last three years to present to the American people, and the phraseology in which I clothe it is the old abolition phraseology. I am for the “immediate, unconditional, and universal” enfranchisement of the black man, in every State in the Union. Without this, his liberty is a mockery; without this, you might as well almost retain the old name of slavery for his condition; for in fact, if he is not the slave of the individual master, he is the slave of society, and holds his liberty as a privilege, not as a right. He is at the mercy of the mob, and has no means of protecting himself.
In a republican country where general suffrage is the rule, without the ballot, personal liberty and other foregoing rights become mere privileges held at the option of others.
In 1869, the U.S. ratified the 15th Amendment, giving African Americans the right to vote. However due to the discrimination from the Jim Crow South primarily, African Americans continued to be deprived of the right to vote due to such voting practices as poll taxes, literary tests, and other voter suppression laws. The Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965, barred those practices and placed the federal government in an oversight position over states that historically discriminated against African Americans’ right to vote.
In the 1960s, African Americans continued to fight for the right to vote through the passage of the Voting Rights Act. In this video, you can see footage of civil rights leaders fighting for the right to vote in 1965 in Selma, Alabama – a small town that had suppressed the voting rights of African Americans. In this march of peaceful protestors, police officials began beating, shooting and gassing the marchers. One of those protesters was the late U.S. Representative, John Lewis, (D – Ga). He reminded us:
“The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have”
And finally, here is a quote by Barack Obama, Former U.S. President:
“The consequences of anybody here, not turning out and doing everything you can to get your friends, neighbors, family to turn out, the consequences of you staying home would be profoundly dangerous to this country, to our democracy.”
So go vote. Do it right now.