We can all agree on this: the right and responsibility to vote.
By Guy Trammell Jr.
Voting stirs many thoughts and emotions. It is an appropriate “Rite of Passage” for the teens, who can finally voice their opinion in elections. For others it is a “civic duty.” In Tuskegee, discrimination made voting a clarion call to battle. Imagine going to work or school one day and learning that a vote was to be taken for changes in procedure. Then, before ballots were distributed, it was stated: no female could vote, your skin color must be within a certain range, and only those from certain neighborhoods could vote. You and your closest co-workers are all eliminated. How would you feel???
In 1895, Susan B. Anthony brought her National American Women’s Suffrage Association to Atlanta, seeking southern support for women’s right to vote. Adelle Hunt Logan, an advanced scholar, intellectual and teacher, from Booker T. Washington’s “Tuskegee Machine,” attended the conference. Adelle, moved by what she heard, became the first Alabamian to join the Suffrage Movement. She was an advocate, writing articles and working tirelessly to bring the issue to a vote in the 1915 Alabama Legislature. She saw hope that victory was at hand, but, it was voted down. . . Alabama said, “No! Women can’t vote!”
In 1957, Senator Samuel Englehardt, Jr. led the Alabama Legislature to redraw the Tuskegee city limits, excluding all but a handful of the 5,000-plus African-American voters and keeping all of the 1,000-plus European-American voters. The reason given was to prevent African-Americans from being elected to office. One comment stated, “Can you imagine us with a n***** sheriff?” Tuskegee Institute’s Dr. Charles G. Gomillion and the Tuskegee Civic Association reversed this action in the famous U.S. Supreme Court case, Gomillion versus Lightfoote. However, Alabama then voted for the 1957 Macon County Abolition Amendment 18, to abolish the county and split it up among the surrounding counties. The vote was 75,019 for and 48,568 against. Alabama said, “No! African Americans can’t be elected to office!”.
In the 1960s, students formed the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League, or TIAL. As “scholar activists”, they challenged Jim Crow bigotry, but maintained their class attendance and academic performance. Navy veteran Samuel Leamon Younge, Jr., was a TIAL leader. Through voter education and rides to the courthouse, Sammy facilitated hundreds of African-Americans becoming registered voters. TIAL workers were attacked by Registrars verbally, and physically with knives. On Jan. 3, 1966, Sammy Younge, Jr., who had just become old enough to vote, was killed at Tuskegee’s Bus Station. TIAL worked overtime that summer registering new voters across the county to elect Lucius Amerson, the first African-American sheriff since Reconstruction.
The strongest voting lesson to me came from our beloved Queen Mother Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson, Tuskegee’s own Mother of the Voter Rights Movement. She said, “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People!”
By Amy Miller
My 20-year-old nephew is enraged that so many of his friends are not motivated to vote. My 16-year-old son believes we are dis-respecting everyone who fought for our democracy if we don’t use the power of our vote.
But today in America roughly half of us who are allowed to vote don’t bother going to the polls. It’s easy to take this right for granted until you don’t have it any more.
It turns out my state, Maine, is doing well when it comes to getting out to vote — at least compared to the nation, if not the world.
In the 2016 presidential election, 73 percent of “voting-eligible people” in Maine went to the polls, compared to 60 percent nationwide and 59 percent in Alabama, home to our Sister City of Tuskegee. In the 2014 midterms, 58.7 percent in Maine went to the polls compared to 36 percent nationally and 33.2 percent in Alabama.
We can gloat that Maine has an engaged citizenry. But more importantly, we have laws protecting our right to vote and making it easier to cast ballots. These rules have everything to do with who and how people here vote.
For instance, citizens can register right up to Election Day. You don’t need an ID to vote unless you are registering at the same time. This is a big help to non-drivers, who are disproportionately immigrants, college students and minorities, and are typically below average in turnout. Maine, alone with Vermont, also allows felons, whether in jail, on parole or on probation, to vote.
In Alabama, like other states, voters must show a photo ID to vote, although you can get around that by, for instance, having a poll worker vouch for you. Felons are not allowed to vote, even after they are released from jail. And citizens must register at least 14 days before the election.
The United States as a whole, including Maine, does not do well compared to many other countries. We are way down on voter turnout, below Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and dozens of European countries.
Oregon recently took a big step to energize voters. The state in 2016 instituted opt-out voter registration. Instead of having to register in order to vote, anyone with a driver’s license or other government ID is automatically on the voting rolls. This increased voter turnout, and raised the typically lower turnout of low income, minority and youth voters.
Voting laws matter. In South Berwick’s sister city of Tuskegee, white people six decades ago moved district lines to ensure that black people didn’t take over the city. This paved the way to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
At the same time hat laws must allow and encourage us all to vote, not build barriers to voting, we individually must take seriously this privilege and responsibility.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote but they have, you’ve just detailed that except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
Color Us Connected is written by a black man from Tuskegee, Alabama, Guy Trammell Jr. and a white woman, from South Berwick, Maine, Amy Miller – each of us writing from our own perspective about the same topic. This column grew out of a decision by the people of our hometowns to form Common Ground – the Tuskegee/South Berwick Sister City project. We hope you enjoy our articles and invite you to visit us online at Color Us Connected.