Understanding The Root Cause Of Voter Suppression

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Julian Bond.
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In an action extreme enough to inspire the objection of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court intervened this week to block a lower court’s order that Alabama must redraw its congressional maps before the 2022 midterm elections.

The 5-4 decision denies Black voters, who make up 27 percent of Alabama’s electorate, the opportunity to elect an additional representative of their choice this year, despite a federal court’s ruling last month that the Voting Rights Act guarantees them this right. The court’s decision is not simply alarming because it undermines the fruit of the most famous Black-led struggle for democracy in the very place where it was won 57 years ago. It is all the more concerning because such an extreme action was taken without oral arguments or deliberation.

But just as the struggle in Selma exposed the rotten roots of Jim Crow in 1965, the Supreme Court’s brazen action this week reveals the root cause of voter suppression efforts today.

In 1965, when mounted Dallas County sheriff’s deputies charged nonviolent marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the nation’s attention turned to Alabama and people were compelled to ask why anyone was willing to take such extreme actions to keep Black people from voting in the South. The civil rights movement quickly organized a march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. appealed to religious leaders around the country, asking them to come to Alabama to highlight the morality of their struggle for democracy.

When 25,000 people marched up Dexter Avenue to the base of the state house steps on the last day of the march, King explained what the extremism they had witnessed revealed:

"In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland. Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land."

Yes, racism was being used to deny Black people the right to vote and pit poor Black people in the South against their poor white neighbors. But racism wasn’t the root cause, King insisted. Racism was a tool that elite interests used to subverting democracy. But their real goal was always to prevent economic justice for the Southern masses.

Nearly six decades later, the tools have changed, but the root cause of voter suppression remains the same. Read more.

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