Foreword: Where We Are in History
By Rev. Dr. William Barber II
President, North Carolina NAACP
We must admit that the history of voting in this country is a curious, contentious and contorted story.
And when you know this history; when you know where we are in history; then you understand why the NAACP and the civil rights community stand firm against any attempt to suppress, stagnate or violate the fundamental principles of the 15th Amendment. Ratified in 1870 in the aftermath of slavery, it declares that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Here in North Carolina, between 1868 and 1872, African-American leaders demanded three fundamental rights. They wanted more than just freedom but full citizenship. They demanded and contended for the right to public education, the right to sit in a jury box and the right to put a ballot in a ballot box.
With the ballot they joined with progressive whites in what was called fusion politics and from 1868 to 1898 there were more black people in our general assembly than today. They led the effort to rewrite the state’s constitution, passing some of the most progressive voting laws, education laws, labor rights laws, criminal justice reform laws and progressive tax reform laws.
And then there was a violent backlash against this reconstruction. The former slave owners could not handle the reconstruction of a nation out of its racist history going on around them.
They worked to pass new laws; Jim Crow laws to steal, segregate, suppress and isolate the black vote and nullify the promises of the 15th Amendment.
The culmination of these efforts to stop coalition politics and the power of blacks and whites uniting together in a progressive voting block was the Wilmington riots and massacre of November 10, 1898.
Duly elected black and white officials were run out of office. Three to five percent of Wilmington’s population was murdered. In the stronghold of black political power, they were shot in the streets in this effort promoted by radical white supremacists, leading newspapermen and the political machine of Charles B. Aycock, who would be awarded the governorship for his efforts.
Two years after the Wilmington Race Riot, the last African-American serving in the US Congress, George White was driven out of office. Another African-American from North Carolina would not walk those halls for another 90 years.
North Carolina used every tool, grandfather clauses, literacy tests and poll taxes, to stop the potential and power of the black vote. The legal effect of these racially-motivated tactics was not completely rendered illegal until after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
When you understand this history then you understand why those of us in the civil rights community will fight against any attempt, under any guise or any camouflage by any party to suppress, steal, distract, disturb, discourage, isolate or intimidate anybody’s right to vote.
We know what these tactics look like. We know what they smell like.
We fought to stop those who would have rolled back same day registration and won. We fought those who tried to pass Voter Photo ID laws targeted at disenfranchising African-Americans, students, the elderly and other minorities. And we won.
We are fighting right now in court to overturn the race-based redistricting plans that were passed. And we will win.
We know our history. We know the history of America and North Carolina. We have come too far. We must go forward together and not one step back.
The sons and daughters of freedom fighters, make one promise to America, from which we will never retreat…!! When it comes to our rights, ordained by God and guaranteed by our Constitution, we will never give in and we will never, never, never turn back!