150 years after the end of the US Civil War, the same Confederates and the federal government are poised for a rematch over the repeated acts of treason by states seeking to deny one of the most important founding tenets of democracy– voting rights– to black Americans, and ultimately over the fundamental rights of all Americans. And once again, the former Confederates are determined to defend their traditions and way of life, which involves the control and treatment Americans of color as less than equals. Rather, than embrace these full-fledged American citizens, they would rather exclude and dehumanize them–while the United States forces in the North – the federal government – are positioning themselves to defend their justice and equality.
Being from Vicksburg, Mississippi, I’ve seen firsthand the distorted, unhealthy refusal to let go of the brutal loss that the Southern States endured during the Civil War. Hell, there’s a huge, crescent-shaped National Military Park in my hometown which commemorates the Siege of Vicksburg—a siege which, in some ways, was the turning point of the Civil War, since the fall of Vicksburg gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union troops and signaled the inevitable defeat of the Confederacy, especially since Gettysburg’s demise occurred on almost the same day. The Park surrounds the city on three sides, the northern tip of the rolling green crescent almost touching the Mississippi River—near Fort Nogales (pronounced “No-gul-eez”), where a brace of cannon with hornet’s nests in the muzzles, still face out over the brown, silt-heavy Mississippi. The southern point of the crescent comes back to the River at a well-known Circle where young men tried to get their dates to go and make out when we were fifteen and had a driver’s license……sitting in the car and looking out over the River toward Louisiana and the Cajun Bayou country, and that whole weird state, where all manner of craziness went on that could screw you up for life. A pitted black-top road winds down from the monument-studded crescent into a place called Marcus’ Bottom, which was said to have grown up along a tendril from the Park, an offshoot of the War and the fall of the Confederacy.
There were corrugated tin-roof shacks, with white people living in them, set at odd angles into the wooded hillside behind a little store called the Shop-a-Minit. Situated in “The Bottom” were rows of black people’s shacks that had settled unevenly into the bare clay dirt behind an ancient stretch of red-earth poverty which had its own name–Jabour’s Quarters.
I even had a black friend back in the turbulent 1960s who lived in The Bottom as Vicksburg was oddly a fairly progressive community in those days. I was in my friend’s shack four or five times later in the summer that I turned thirteen and worked that summer at a Philips 66 gasoline station in the Bottom. Every time I was there, you could smell red beans and pork, sugary and thick in the close air, and another smell that didn’t seem to belong–mint…fresh crushed mint, mingled with the dusty heaviness of red beans and sweat.
We all thought that the racial divide had been done away with until we ventured out of Vicksburg and saw it in all of its nasty realism. So I’ve known since I was thirteen years old that it has never gone away, it just takes different forms of the same hardened feelings. Now it’s back again, and it’s centered around a familiar issue…are black Americans entitled to the same rights as white Americans.
A New Civil War Is Brewing Over Voting Rights
In an ironic twist, this time two black men – President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder – are front and center in taking the fight to the people in the South who don’t like black Americans, or any other minority for that matter, much less letting them vote.
In the 1860s, the fight between the North and the South was about slavery—regardless of the phony protestations to the contrary– and the right of the Confederate states to maintain a dreadful, despicable practice that kept people of African descent in forced captivity as if they were nothing more than pack mules. Unprecedented carnage resulted from the war that ensued and an official body-count—most of whom were left to rot in the open fields, swamps and hills throughout the South–is officially set at over 600,000.
A century later – in light of the 1954 US Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, which ended racial segregation in public schools – the South struggled to maintain a Jim Crow system that kept black people legally and politically impotent, and still segregated from the rest of society, despite being the losers in that war; all in the name of states’ rights, a fight for which these Confederates have been relentlessly and ruthlessly pursuing since leaving England with the original colonials.
Two milestones of the1950-60s civil rights movement are the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, the legislative victories were achieved only through the blood of civil rights workers, both black and white, who were beaten, shot, sprayed with fire hoses, firebombed, crosses burned on their lawfully owned front lawns, bitten by police dogs and in some cases of extreme depravity, lynched by the cowardly group known as the KKK.
The purpose of the Voting Rights Act was to apply a nationwide ban against discriminatory election practices such as literacy tests. The existing anti-discrimination laws, that the duly elected Congress concluded, were insufficient to overcome the Southern states’ opposition to the Fifteenth Amendment.
In June 2013, the nation’s Unsupreme, activist, 5-4 uber-conservative high court dug back into those dark days and chopped the legs out from under the voting law in Shelby County v Holder when it eviscerated the key section of the act – the section 4 preclearance requirement – which determined which states must receive approval from a federal court or the Justice Department before making changes to their voting procedures. Nine states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – were the focus of the Act as the most ruthless and blatant offenders in repudiating and ignoring the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, that the Tea Party pretends to give a rats ass about all the way up to the Second Amendment but not beyond.
Approaching the midpoint of the second decade of the 21st century, the battle has risen again. It was certainly foreseeable when the U.S. elected its first African American President. Unfortunately, Democrats were so busy celebrating–even as the immensely important census-year midterm elections were taking shape—that they essentially sat out the election. This colossal mistake completely neutered any chance President Obama had to continue his successful policies that were slowly assisting the critically wounded economy to recovery.
The epicenter of this new Jim Crow movement is not surprisingly focused in southern states with a history of voting rights violations, and currently exhibit the most anti-black, racist sentiment. These states want to utilize restrictive and racially discriminatory voter suppression methods such as specific voter IDs which intrinsically make it more difficult for minorities to obtain. This time, the Republican Party has replaced the Dixiecrats as the party of white supremacy and the old Confederacy (which actually had its origin before the Revolutionary War and was finally neutered by President George Washington, you remember him right?–the “Father” of our country?)—which is hell-bent on racial discrimination and voter suppression. And Holder has decided to take the fight to the biggest dog first—Texas–firing the first shot at the Lone Star state.
Within 24 hours of the high court decision, five states – Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – decided to immediately implement their voter ID laws. They required preclearance under section 4, which no longer exists. This, in spite of the fact that AG Holder and a federal court had already blocked the South Carolina and Texas voter ID laws because they violated the Voting Rights Act.
Florida,another divided southern state, in resuming the GOPs own attacks on democracy, has proceeded once again with its purge of Hispanic voters following the Supreme Court decision–also after a federal court lifted a ban on removing potential non-US citizens from the rolls. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has signed into law the nation’s most restrictive voter suppression measure, despite the incredible admission that he has not read the provision prohibiting 16- and 17-year-olds from pre-registering to vote. The law also eliminates same-day registration, cuts early voting by a week and requires specific government-issued ID to vote. According to the North Carolina secretary of state–as if one would have to be blind not to see the intention of the law–voter ID laws are having a lopsided impact on Democratic voters and voters of color.
SB 14, the Texas voter ID law considered the most severe in the US at present, requires Texans to prove their citizenship and state residency in order to vote, using a passport, military ID or birth certificate if they lack a driver’s license, concealed handgun license or photo ID. In 2012, a federal court struck down the Texas law on the grounds that:
1. The implicit costs of obtaining SB 14-qualifying ID will fall most heavily on the poor and that
2. A disproportionately high percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas live in poverty. …
Yet, in light of the Shelby County decision, the Activist, Conservative Supreme Court discarded the lower court’s Texas voter ID ruling, and threw out a ruling that found Texas’ state redistricting maps were “enacted with discriminatory purpose” and diluted the Latino vote. Although Latinos made up nearly 40% of the Texas population in the 2010 census and accounted for 65% of the growth in the state population, Texas Republicans essentially pretend Texas is a white state.
In addition, the court found that 603,892 to 795,955 Latino voters in Texas lacked proper voter identification – as Texas Republicans had intended. Student IDs are not adequate identification at the polls, but gun permits are acceptable, reflecting just one of the preferences for Republican constituents.
Holder announced he would ask a federal court to force the state to continue to receive permission to make changes to its voting laws. The Justice Department has requested that a federal court impose an additional 10 years of preclearance.
In response, Governor Rick Perry said in a statement:
“This end run around the supreme court undermines the will of the [white] people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.” Ummm, bullshit.
White southern Republicans enact voter ID laws because they do not want Democratic constituencies to vote, particularly people of color. Rather than embrace the changing demographics in the US and adopt platforms to address the needs and concerns of voters of color, Republicans have chosen to shun these voters and wage an assault on civil rights, immigration, women’s rights and policies of diversity and inclusion. This is obviously the endgame for the Republican Southern Strategy of race card politics.
The GOP has long been able to win elections on the margins by appealing to the racial insecurities of hostile working and lower-class whites. In the process, southern whites fled the Democratic Party, and the GOP became the party of the white South.
Now, this marginalized and increasingly shrinking base of angry white voters is all that is left of the Republican strategy and of the GOP as well, so Republicans have simply decided to remove the the voting rights of the segments of the electorate that will not vote for them, remarkably alienating most women voters as well.
Americans are going to have to ask themselves if they really want to live in a country where one party is so desperate to win elections that they go around trying to make it harder for people to vote if they’re people of color, poor people, female, or first generation immigrants.
This is not complicated, even for Republicans. America is becoming more diverse, the baby boom generation will start losing influence and numbers, and the electorate will be younger and more vibrant. As a country, we’re already much younger than Europe, we’re younger than Japan, and in 20 years, we’ll be younger than China.
Meanwhile, July marked the 150th anniversary of the Second Battle of Fort Wagner in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The Union army – led by black troops from the 54th Massachusetts regiment – failed to retake the fort, and the Confederate army won the battle, but during the same month essentially lost the war.
150 years ago this past July 4th, the siege at Vicksburg ended under the Union command of Ulysses S. Grant– signaling the end of the Confederacy’s primary means of transporting arms, food and people and together with the almost simultaneous fall of Gettysburg, marked the titular end of the Civil War.
But as anyone can plainly see, the Southern states have never given up the desire to go back and recapture that way of life; the brutal, inhumane, yet somehow rationalized as Christian way of life. Mississippi still incorporates the Confederate Stars and Bars into its official state flag and the states first major university, the University of Mississippi, had until recently the Confederate Battle Flag, the official name of Rebels for their sports teams, and a Confederate Plantation owner, aptly named Colonel Rebel, as their official personification/mascot/symbol. All of which showed willful disdain for the federal government’s enforcement of desegregation with the enrollment of James Meredith in 1962 amidst riots by the white community.
The More Things Change
When does this type behavior–these deliberate and intentional attempts to deny democracy to legal and protected citizens of these United States of America, solely because of their race or gender—become recognized as what it is…treason? These are not the acts of “patriots”–quite the opposite. They can wear all the stupid 3-cornered hats and t-shirts they want, it doesn’t make them patriots anymore than dousing a turd in Bar-B-Q sauce makes it pork ribs.
When will the rest of America stand up to these traitors who pretend to hold sacred the same Constitution when it suits their desire to make gun-toting on playgrounds and bars legal, but not when it applies to non-white CITIZENS’ right to vote?
When will the rest of America stop these former cross-burning, sheet-wearing, members of white supremacist organizations who flaunt their disdain for the laws and government?
If it’s not in 2014, we might just end up back on that battlefield of the armored sort against our own citizens… just like we did a short 150 years ago.
Harvey A. Gold