By Sonny Messiah Jiles
The adage “History Repeats Itself” is in full operation as Texas leads our nation back in time to the birth of Jim Crow. Some say Texas is leading the charge for other states to follow. The Texas legislature has passed laws to limit access to voting by changing dates, times and places where you can vote. They have put their poll watchers at the polls to intimidate voters and even set up a system to throw out votes if they contend the votes are not valid, just in case a Democrat wins. Now it seems the nation is attempting to make the same changes across the country.
But let’s look back at history. The Civil War was over, and the 13th and 14th Amendments opened the door for African Americans to vote. Black state legislators, mayors, sheriffs and more were being elected to 700 public offices across the United States, among them two United States Senators and 14 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. In the Compromise of 1877, U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the last troops in the South to withdraw, removing the enforcement arm for the 13th and 14th Amendments.
Alarmed by the progress of Blacks and capitalizing on the troop removal, white southerners put a plan together to change the laws and take back the power they saw slipping away. The results: voter suppression (poll taxes), the default on the 40 acres and a mule promise and the rise of lynching.
When the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, there was a surge in African American elected officials. Fast forward to the 21st century: Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States, and the floodgates burst open electing even more minorities and women to public office. A new transformation was taking place.
A red flag went up in the South that white men were about to lose their power, and either they had to change the game or change the rules. Reflecting on their white ancestors who succeeded at retaining their power after the Civil War and motivated by the fear of minorities and women gaining more elected positions, a new plan was activated.
First, in 2013 during the Obama presidency, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, which allowed states to begin changing their voting laws without federal procedural protections in place.
In 2016, Americans elected Donald J. Trump as the leader of the free world and placed him in the White House. In Congress, then-Majority Senate leader Mitch McConnell began stacking the courts with conservative like-minded judges: district court judges, the court of appeals judges, and Supreme Court justices. The Republican Party concentrated on controlling local politics, from school boards to governors’ mansions.
With the death of George Floyd and the worldwide response, a nation in denial opened its eyes to African American inequities and “white privilege.” Non-profit and profit entities established diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, contributed to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), added minorities and women to boards and much more.
To offset the racial equity movement, a counter-force was needed. So, the seeds of the “Big Lie” were planted in anticipation of a Democratic Party victory in the White House to claim Joe Biden was not elected the rightful president.
With COVID, a window of opportunity opened to reinforce a fundamental principle of the Republican Party promoting small or limited government rejecting mask and vaccine mandates. This is hypocritical considering that Republicans are anti-abortion and want the government to dictate what women can do with their bodies. What a double standard.
Now add to the mix the misconception of critical race theory and the efforts to suppress what really happened in American history to people of color. Their objective is to continue teaching the carefully tailored “HIS-STORY” many of us have been taught for decades, which is the foundation of the double standard that exists in America and the fuel for white privilege.
What is the solution? How do we stop history from repeating itself as we see the writing on the wall? How do we save our fragile democracy?
“We the people” must become involved while we still can. We must exercise our right to vote, run for office and let our voice be heard at all public meetings, including school board, city council, county commission, and the state legislature, plus educate our children about our history. We must be diligent despite the obstacles just like our ancestors, who continued the fight under the threat of death.
The reason why we must act now: Our future and the future of our children are in significant danger, and there is too much at stake.
Sonny Messiah Jiles is CEO of the Houston Defender Network. This editorial was written as a part of the Houston Defender Advancing Democracy Initiative.
Local Media Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable trust that provides support for the Word In Black collaborative, does not endorse political candidates. Word In Black, however, invites and publishes opinion essays, including this one, from the 10 publishers in the collaborative.