I was four days old when three civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi on June 21, 1964.
They had been working on registering voters who might not have even known that they were eligible, or those who had been terrified into not even trying.
Considering that the community organizers were murdered as a result of a conspiracy between both private citizens and public officials, the fear then is understandable.
The perpetrators eventually faced justice, but the battle wasn’t easy. Even President LBJ had to use strong-arm tactics to make sure that FBI Director Hoover made the investigation an unrelenting priority. Finally the designated criminals included even Rev. Edger Killen who had originally been acquitted because jurors couldn’t bear the thought of convicting a minister. Killen was eventually sentenced on January 6, 2005 under manslaughter charges to three consecutive 20-year terms at the age of 80.
A big part of civil rights conflicts present during the time I was born were the result of laws supporting poll taxes. Put in place after the Civil War, these state-issued fees limited who was able to vote. So…the possibility of a truly representative republic was also limited. Families who had voted before the Civil War were grandfathered in and weren’t required to pay. Put another way, no Black people were exempt. And because the tax was the same rate for all, it was easier for a white businessman than for anyone of any other description to pay because of economic status because it represented a smaller percentage of Boss Man’s income than Po’boy’s. Additional literacy requirements further limited the prospective voter pool to those who had had the opportunity of education. This impacted the Usual Victims who had access only to poor quality public schools plus newer immigrant groups such as the Irish.
The horror and shame of the Mississippi Burning murders propelled the country into overturning a series of laws established in generations past that had allowed a structure of slavery to exist despite a battle being in the history books that said that the Confederacy had lost.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In a two-month period in 1966 when the unconstitutional Poll Taxes were abolished, Texas was the first to be forced to comply. Alabama, Virginia, and Mississippi were the last of the four states that were compelled to accept that white people do not have an exclusive voice or an inalienable right to govern.
In a moral landscape, this would have humbled a righteous country and led to consistent righteous leadership. But in 1989 when Congress passed a non-binding resolution honoring the fallen men who had died trying to bring the vote to the disenfranchised, Senator Trent Lott and the entire delegation of Mississippi refused to sign it.
In our upcoming election, the State of Texas is requiring voters to prove that they are eligible to vote by purchasing some form of approved identification. Student photo IDs from a college, university, or vocational school are not accepted. Gun permits without a photo are. Other states have modified versions of these statutes.
The party candidate who could benefit and be voted into our highest office – if these modern re-boots of poll taxes aren’t thrown forever by our courts into the pit of Hell where human rights violations belong – also believes that middle income in the U.S. is in the mid-$200ks.
A test of leadership is if someone with ambitions to rule rejects a method that will assure victory at the cost of a conscience.
Quote of the Blog from Alexander the Great: “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep. I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”
Image of the FBI poster of the missing civil rights workers.