Voting Rights and Jim Crow
Jim Crow laws set the mood of the south. I was ten years old when the Voting Rights Act was passed. This Act invalidated literacy tests, terrorism, and other methods that were used to deny African Americans the right to vote.1
It is hard for me to fathom this fact. It is also hard to understand how white people were so cruel to people of color, even in something as American as voting. [cru·el /ˈkro͞o(ə)l/ adjective: 1. willfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it]
The roots of Jim Crow laws began in 1865, right after the abolition of slavery. The past and the present had everything to do with it.
White men in the south said, “If we can’t have slaves, we will make their lives miserable and make sure they can’t move up in the world. We can make them pay for wanting to be free.” And they did.
Stacking ’em white
The legal system was stacked against black people. The very men who fought to keep the Confederacy were the men who served as police and judges. There is no doubt what that meant for the people of color who wanted to vote. The codes appeared throughout the South as a legal way to put Black citizens into indentured servitude, to take voting rights away, to control where they lived, how they traveled, and to seize children for labor purposes.2 How awful! How shameful and embarrassing!
Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. Named after a Black minstrel show character, the laws—which existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968—were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence and death.3
Ku Klux Klan
The most ruthless organization of the Jim Crow era, the Ku Klux Klan, was born in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, as a private club for Confederate veterans. Ku Klux Klan activity ended in 1872 and disappeared until it was revived in 1915.4 Sadly, there are still people today who think what the Ku Klux Klan did was right (even though they never dared show their faces).
John Lewis and Jim Crow
John Lewis died in July of 2020. He was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, a group of black and white men and women of various ages who rode buses across the south and challenged the nation’s segregation laws.
Of voting, he said,
A few years ago, people could not vote simply because of the color of their skin. “You had to count the number of jelly beans in a jar or the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. Black teachers and college professors could not pass [those] literacy tests.
Lewis was jailed 40 times as a young man fighting for the right to vote. As a freedom rider, he was beaten bloody by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama. A police beating while he was protesting the denial of voting rights in Selma gave Lewis a concussion. Nobody did a thing about it. Shame, shame.
Jelly Beans and Jim Crow
Before 1867, only whites voted in the south.4 When blacks were allowed to vote, voting “rules” made it difficult.
In order to vote, black men had to pass a literacy test and (if they passed the test) pay a poll tax.6 Not so for the white man, but then, that’s the way things were stacked.
One of the most baffling “laws” was the jellybean test. A black man who wanted to vote had to estimate the number of jelly beans in a jar. If he could not guess the answer correctly, he could not vote. How fair is that? It was just another way for the white man to keep his thumb on black men.
Here we are today
People of both colors have hurt others and been wronged. Prejudice exists on both sides. Hurt and bitterness begets violence. Violence causes more disruption and corruption. Corruption fans the flame of bigotry, prejudice and hate.
Two wrongs do not make a right. It takes a bigger person to put down the sword than to draw it up. The strongest person will lend a hand in peace instead of retaliating. It takes a better person to forgive than it does to carry a grudge. The person who is greatest is the one who admits his prejudice, his anger and hatred, and takes the first step toward reconciliation. The greatest becomes a servant. Not easy, I know. But necessary. And right.
Where the ground is level
There’s only one thing to do. Come together at the cross of Jesus Christ.
No one can legislate morality, but a heart change paves the way for reconciliation for all. Inside our heart of hearts, we know what is right. We know what Jesus asks us to do.
There, at the Cross, the ground is level. There, at the Cross, there has been enough bloodshed for all.