Emory professor sounds alarm on voter disenfranchisement

Jun. 21—False allegations of “voter fraud” that date back decades — even centuries — have been used to disenfranchise Americans, and they’ve returned again in recent years, imperiling the democratic process, according to Carol Anderson, the keynote speaker at Saturday’s Juneteenth gala.

“The thing about a lie is, if you say it enough and convincingly, it becomes the truth,” said Anderson, Charles Howard Candler professor and chair of African American Studies at Emory University. “We’re in a war for American democracy right now, and the only way it’ll be won is by fighting for democracy.”

“Disenfranchisement corrupts and corrodes our democracy, and that disenfranchisement was the catalyst for the civil rights movement,” said Anderson, author of “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide,” which received the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism , was a New York Times’ Bestseller and Editor’s Pick, and was listed on the Zora List of 100 Best Books by Black Woman Authors since 1850. Such disenfranchisement led to the “landmark” 1965 Voting Rights Act, and “the law worked” until the Supreme Court of the United States “gutted the preclearance requirement” in a 2013 decision.

Physical violence was often used to disenfranchise voters, especially in the South — by 1940, only 3% of Blacks in the South were registered to vote — but now the “violence is bureaucratic, designed to create civic death,” said Anderson, whose ” Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955,” received both the Gustavus Myers and Myrna Bernath Book Awards.

After Barack Obama was the first Black person to be elected president of the United States in 2008 due to an “incredible ground game — his organization brought millions of new voters to the polls — (those individuals) became the hit list for voter suppression.”

Voter identification laws, for example, can “create an electorate,” said Anderson, whose “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy” was long-listed for the National Book Award in nonfiction and was a finalist for the PEN/Galbraith Book Award in nonfiction. In Texas, for example, the state would not accept student IDs from state colleges and universities as valid for voting, but concealed carry identifications for firearms were accepted, and in Alabama, public housing identification — 71% of public housing residents in the state are Black — was not considered acceptable for voting.

Purging voter rolls in the US has also disproportionately impacted minorities, she said. Blacks have been overrepresented in purges by 45%, Asian-Americans by 31% and Hispanics by 24%, while whites have been underrepresented in purges by 8%.

In Florida, nearly 2 million residents were unable to vote due to felony convictions — by 2018, 40% of Black men in the state couldn’t vote — a law dating back to 1868, but 65% of voters approved a 2018 referendum restoring voting rights to most felons who had completed the terms of their sentence, she said. However, the state legislature then decreed that felons hadn’t actually completed the terms of their sentence until they’d paid all fees, fines and restitution, another “obstacle” to voting.

Voter participation is paramount, because with low turnout elected officials only have to concern themselves with the select few responsible for voting them into office, and today “our American democracy is hanging by the abyss,” Anderson said. “Our vote is absolutely essential to our democracy, and it is a right, not a privilege.”

The Juneteenth gala at Walnut Hill Farm was the centerpiece of the Dalton-Whitfield NAACP’s Juneteenth festivities.

“This is a wonderful celebration, and we’re so honored you decided to share your time with us,” Jackie Killings, a member of the Juneteenth committee, told the sold-out audience at Walnut Hill Farm. “Our theme this year is perfecting unity through collaboration and education.”

On June 19, 1865, the announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger proclaimed freedom from slavery in Texas, where enforcement of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation didn’t truly take practical effect until Union soldiers reached the state to enforce it. Since then, Juneteenth has grown into a celebration of the emancipation of those who had been slaves in the United States.

It became a federal holiday last year after Congress approved a bill to make June 19 the 12th federal holiday, and President Joe Biden signed it. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.

June 19, 1865, “was not the end of our fight, but a catapult of hope and progress,” said Christie Shelton, who delivered Saturday’s opening remarks.

The suffering of prior generations was “not in vain — the historic legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of never giving up hope — (and) we must continue our quest for equality.”

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