Southern Parties and Elections: Studies in Regional Political Change

By Robert P. Steed; Laurence W. Moreland et al. | Go to book overview

1
Voting Rights in the South After Shaw and Miller The End of Racial Fairness?

Richard K. Scher, Jon L. Mills, and John J. Hotaling

The search for voting rights goes deep into the history of the United States. The free and independent exercise of the franchise was one of the roots of the movement leading to the Revolutionary War. Issues concerning qualifications for voting were aired at the Constitutional Convention. The Fifteenth Amendment sought to extend the franchise to freed slaves.1 The Twentieth Amendment ( 1920) did the same for women.2 Twenty-four years later, the Supreme Court, in Smith v. Allwright.3 affirmed that elections in party primaries could not discriminate against black voters; they were public, not private, events.

But the search for the right to vote existed outside courtrooms and on a far more immediate level than the abstractions of constitutional language. It lay at the very heart of the initial goals of the Civil Rights movement.4 Perhaps at no time in American history has the central importance and connection of the free exercise of the franchise to the full, legitimate citizenship of African-Americans been more eloquently recognized and stated than by Martin Luther King in his famous "Give Us the Ballot" address during the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.:

Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights. . . . Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law. Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead--we will write the proper laws on the books. Give us the ballot and we will fill the legislature with men of goodwill. Give us the ballot and we will get the people judges who will "do justly and love mercy." Give us the ballot and we will quietly, lawfully, and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the May 17, 1954, decision of the Supreme Court. . . . Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.5

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