top of page

African Americans and the Vote

By Johania Charles

“African Americans and the Vote” is the theme on display at the Monsignor William Barry Memorial Library this February for black history month celebrations meant to commemorate the success of both the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements.

Electronic Resource Coordinator and Reference Librarian Merlene Nembhard chose the theme from a list provided by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

Nembhard told The Buccaneer that black youth have lost appreciation for the 15th amendment through their voter apathy. The 15th amendment was a breakthrough constitutional change that stated that voting rights should not be denied based on race.

The library display contains several books about the civil rights movements, Jim Crow laws and the demonstrations in support of blocking African American votes.

“Many students do not understand the struggles African Americans went through to obtain voting rights,” said Nembhard.

Assuredly, Nembhard is referring to the Mississippi Summer Project that helped pass the civil rights act of 1964 and voting rights act of 1965. The project was created by the Congress on Racial Equality and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

Civil Rights protest against discriminatory voting laws in 1964 (Bob Daugherty) * Retrieved by Brandi Kemp*

The 700 volunteers who went to Mississippi to register voters either ended up in prison or were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.

“People that were active were college students. Those people died so we could have the right to vote [but] people are very apprehensive about voting,” said Nembhard.

Political science sophomore Ashley Caleb is a fellow at the Center for Community Service Initiatives (CCSI) here at Barry.

“African American college students are no longer interested in voting along party lines. We are tired of seeing candidates that campaign on black issues but do not seek to change them when elected,” said Caleb. “Instead, they would rather sit out from elections and organize and make a change in their community until politicians work hard to earn their vote.”

Frustration is not the only issue that stops African Americans from voting. Many people believe that the African American vote is still being suppressed 55 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.

Journalist William Anderson created a series called Voting Wrongs to discuss voting injustice. He claims that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was never set in stone. According to him, there are current manifestations of voter disenfranchisement to prove this.

For example, Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams ran a close race against Brian Kemp of the Republican party in 2018. Abrams would have made history by becoming the first African American female governor.

Stacey Abrams delivering speech about voting power

According to an article published in the New Republic magazine, Kemp was accused of using his former position as Georgia’s secretary of state to cancel 591,5000 voter registration applications of which 70 percent belonged to African Americans.

This tactic is reminiscent of earlier voter suppression tactics used in the 19th century in the American South.

South Carolina had an eight-box ballot system (i.e. requiring separate ballots for each political office) that was not explained to blacks, resulting in the rejection of their ballots.

Furthermore, both Mississippi (1890) and Louisiana (1898) created a constitutional convention with the mindset of ending the black vote permanently.

Florida has seen its own share of voter suppression strategies.

The Department of Justice revealed that former Gov. Rick Scott extended the waiting period for felons to have their rights restored and shortened early voting days from 14 to eight.

Recently, Gov. Ron DeSantis was accused of voter suppression acts when his administration scheduled their routine maintenance during National Voter Registration week, making online registration more difficult.

Before that, the DeSantis administration received backlash for creating poll taxes after the passing of amendment four in Florida, automatically limiting the vote of 40 percent of African Americans who are felons.

Additionally, the Center for American Progress claims that 2018 midterm elections showed signs of the most racially driven forms of voter suppression.

A white supremacist group known as Road to Power created robocalls of Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams to threaten Black voters and mock the gubernatorial candidates.

Despite this, former president Barack Obama encourages African Americans to fight through suppression to make their voices heard.

“Even if all restrictions on voting were eliminated, African Americans would still have one of the lowest voting rates. That’s not good,” Obama said.

Nembhard recommends that African Americans, especially students, exercise their right to vote and check out the content of the library display either in person or through the Kanopy site in the streaming media section of the library site.