What the Supreme Court Doesn’t Get About Racism
This is part of a series on voting in America, which will run up to Election Day in November. For Part 1, on the importance of voting, go here. And for Part 2, on a court case over a Kansas voter registration law, go here.
In the last speech of his life, on April 3, 1968, in Memphis, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out the case for the dignity and equality of African-Americans as simply as he could. “We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people,” he said. “All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper.’”
The moral clarity of that appeal is bracing, and so is the difficulty of achieving it — a fact that is evident nowhere as much as in the fight for voting rights. As Dr. King knew well, the history of voting in the United States was, and is, in large part the history of white people in power devising endless ways to keep black people from casting a ballot.
It’s been true all along, from the complete disenfranchisement of slavery to the effective silencing of the Jim Crow era up to now, when a welter of clever and at times subtle laws operates to make it harder for minorities to get to the polls, and to have an equal voice — or any voice at all — in the choice of our representatives and policies.