Friday, October 24, 2008

Early Voting in Raleigh, NC - Guest Blog

The following is a reproduction of an e-mail that I received on my fraternity's private e-mail distribution listserver a few days ago. The author joined our fraternity in the mid-1950's on the campus of Virginia State College in the small city of Petersburg, Virginia. The following post (with permission from Dr. Michael V. W. Gordon, Professor Emeritus, Indiana University) recounts his journey to take advantage of early voting in Raleigh, North Carolina... and his struggle to get the right to vote in 1960.

Aretha Franklin "A Change Is Gonna Come"

This song was written and recorded by Sam Cooke during the height of the Civil Rights Movement after he was moved at hearing Bob Dylan's ode to the movement, "Blowin' in the Wind." It is reported that after speaking with sit-in demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina following a concert in May 1963, Cooke returned to his tour bus and wrote the first draft of what would become "A Change Is Gonna Come."

I selected this version of the song to accompany Dr. Gordon's story because I love the old gospel feel of Aretha Franklin's soulful singing and the music (the organ wailing in the background holding up Aretha's heartfelt turn at the piano) in contrast to the equally lush and mythical orchestration (with strings and horns) of Sam Cooke's version. AND this is the version of the song that plezWorld grew up listening to on my parents' stereo.

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The First Day Of Early Voting In Raleigh, NC
Posted: October 22, 2008

We arrived early last Thursday, October 16th and already about 300 people were in line at the polling place. My brother-in-law, who just recently had hip replacement surgery, my sister, and me - who will be having ankle replacement surgery - went to the assisted voting area for the handicapped. Can you imagine?

We were assisted by very able poll workers, like this one.

Guess who I voted for? Should I vote the straight ticket? All right, lefty.

Dr. Gordon's Ballot


Young Dr. GordonThe reason I say, "We have come a long way, baby" is that sitting there waiting for my ballot to be brought to me, I reflected on the first time I voted back in 1960 in Petersburg, Virginia. After studying ROTC at Virginia State College (now University) and graduating in 1957, I served for two years as an officer in the Army, mainly in the 101st Airborne Division.

When I returned to Petersburg in 1959, I had an unusual administrative experience for a small town African American guy. I was appointed as part-time Assistant Principal at the newly built, Westview Elementary School.

The president of the PTA there that year was the Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker. Rev. Walker, along with some other young ministers in Petersburg started a civil rights organization to make Petersburg better. It was called the Petersburg Improvement Association. The Petersburg Improvement Association led many sit-ins and other protest activities against racial segregation laws there. Many were arrested. Many lost their jobs.

This movement gained the attention of the young, Reverend MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., who visited our city many times and assisted us. He was so impressed with Wyatt Tee Walker, that eventually he took him back to Atlanta as his Chief of Staff.

But as we were studying to register African Americans to vote, Martin Luther King would come with his staff to teach us techniques for getting that job done. MLK would drive in late at night and leave during the night because it was dangerous for him to be seen in that area. We had heard that an assistant principal in an area not far from us had been taken out of his home and lynched.

You see, this was before the Civil Rights Act of 1965 that removed the artificial and deliberate obstacles the segregationists devised to keep blacks from exercising voting power.We had the poll tax, which required paying a fee for the privilege of voting and we had the "literacy" test.

That was administered in Petersburg by asking the prospective voter something about government that they expected an educated voter to know. Also, you need to know that all whites did not support this apartheid system of government. We had someone in the voter registration office, who was white, who told us the question in advance which we would be asked.

That question was changed periodically to keep blacks from knowing too much in advance. We had study sessions at night at the church and some of us were trained to "pass" and some were trained to "fail". The reason for this was that if we all passed it would look suspicious.

Since I was the part-time Assistant Principal of the elementary school and an officer in the United States Army Reserve, they believed that I was among those who would not cause so much suspicion if I "passed".

So we set about the task of memorizing the answer to the question which we had been presented in "secret". I'll never forget that day when I was to report to the Petersburg Court House for my "examination".

After waiting a good while, I was ushered into an office and confronted by a surly, burly white man, "What do you want, boy?"

"I want to register to vote," I replied.

"I will ask you a question. Can you recite from memory the Third Article of The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Fa-jin-ja (his pronunciation of Virginia)?

So, I recited what I had carefully memorized over the previous two weeks:
    ARTICLE III The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia

    Division of Powers

    Section 1. Departments to be distinct.The legislative, executive, and judicial departments shall be separate and distinct, so that none exercise the powers properly belonging to the others, nor any person exercise the power of more than one of them at the same time; provided, however, administrative agencies may be created by the General Assembly with such authority and duties as the General Assembly may prescribe.

    Provisions may be made for judicial review of any finding, order, or judgment of such administrative agencies.

And that is the way it was then.

I got my registration card in 1960.

I voted for John F. Kennedy for President of the United States of America!
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plez sez: i thank Dr. Gordon for trusting plezWorld with his story.

both of my parents were born and raised in segregated north carolina: denied an adequate education, fair wages, health care, and an opportunity to vote. my parents did not get to vote until they moved our family to new york in the mid-1950's. i have an aunt (my mother's 95-year old sister) who will be taking advantage of early voting in ahoskie, north carolia... like dr. gordon, my aunt will be voting from the handicapped area for BARACK OBAMA!

another commonality with dr. gordon is my second oldest brother, he also graduated from virginia state college in petersburg in 1979 - a full 20 years after dr. gordon returned there to teach. i spoke with my brother earlier this week, he lives in southern california. like dr. gordon, my aunt, and me, my brother will be voting for BARACK OBAMA!

1 comment:

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

mnan i know how u heard the messed up in Geinnett county here and gone have folks hand transfer folks vote. and chk this out from Tobe to Joe Sixpack