Point of View Columns

Why SCOTUS Should Remember Harry T. Moore

The recent United State Supreme Court decision virtually disabling the Voting Rights Act is arguably the most racially negative decision since Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. In that decision SCOTUS confirmed the constitutionality of state-sponsored racial segregation, legalizing most iterations of Jim Crow in the process. In the wake of this most recent decision it is time for all of us, especially the ScaliaAlitoThomasRoberts gang to remember Harry T. Moore.

While there is plenty of time for legal experts to parse through the armada of arguments that justify the evisceration of a key foundation of the modern civil rights era, it is time to put this entire issue into a human perspective. The Voting Rights Act was never just about enabling black Americans to vote, it was also about putting into law a key element of full citizenship – citizenship that had been explicitly denied to black Americans since the founding of this country.

The issue of race has been a source of contradiction and hypocrisy, cruelty and denial, virtually from the time that the first European settlers came to that part of North America that eventually became the United States. The establishment of a slavery system totally based upon race was historically unique and particularly malignant because it created the malignant slime of racism that has been immune to the vaccine of emancipation and liberation.

The Slave Codes, the Dred Scott decision, the calamitous end of Reconstruction and the abandonment of the newly freed slaves, the blind eye turned to the rampages of the Ku Klux Klan, the case of Plessy v. Ferguson – all of these historical facts and many more have contributed to the American institutional effort to make America a living Hell for black Americans.

The slow and grudging progress towards some semblance of equal rights and the attainment of full citizenship took place in the face of outright violence. Justice Antonin Scalia should be ashamed of himself for referring to the Voting Rights Act as “racial entitlement” as if the VRA was part of some grand legal exercise. In point of fact the VRA arose out of the need to protect and preserve the place of black Americans in this very critical aspect of citizenship – the only “entitlement” in the VRA is meant to “entitle” black Americans to the same rights that Justice Scalia’s Italian immigrant parents obtained as soon as they could pass an English literacy test and a perfunctory civics exam.

From the earliest colonial times terrorism of black Americans was literally the law of the land in the American colonies. And, because literacy could be a key to liberation, access to literacy was severely limited when it came to black slaves.

The United States Constitution, ratified by such icons as George Washington (slave owner), Thomas Jefferson (slave owner), James Madison (slave owner) and James Monroe (slave owner) referred to black slaves as 3/5th of a person for electoral allocations but even that 3/5th designation failed to protect black Americans from the twin depredations of slavery and institutional racism.

After the Civil War the displaced slave hierarchy in the South immediately realized that upon emancipation the battle lines for depriving black Americans of citizenship no longer would be drawn at the point of literacy, but rather at the point of enfranchisement – voting rights. The Ku Klux Klan was born as a terrorist organization dedicated to keeping black Americans from voting. After the death knell of Reconstruction was sounded in 1876 as the bastard child of yet another soulless political bargain, every Southern state immediately established as many statutory barriers to black enfranchisement as possible.

For almost a century black voters have had to risk their lives and livelihoods just to get the right to vote. And that is why SCOTUS should learn about Harry T. Moore, the head of the Florida NAACP who, in 1951 was blown up along with his wife, for having the temerity to attempt to secure the right to vote for black Americans.

The Voting Rights Act was the legacy of Mr. and Mrs. Moore and the thousands of black and white Americans who literally died in order to this right to become a reality. To suggest that 50 years of the VRA is enough to erase the racial slime of over three and a half centuries is sadly preposterous and a dangerous proposition.

The rights won by these martyrs are not so safe and secure – as the voter suppression campaigns of 2012 proved.

June 24, 2103 was a shameful day for SCOTUS.

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One thought on “Why SCOTUS Should Remember Harry T. Moore

  1. Scalia should read Nell Painter’s History of White People. Though the book can fall short, it does an excellent job of clarifying that Italians were not considered whites in this country until into the 1900s (Jews not until the late 1950s/60s).

    Also, the legacy of literacy restrictions placed upon African Americans in slavery still remain and resonate today, though in ways more unspoken, insidious, and, even, taken for granted, most especially in the underfunding and low graduation rates of largely African American public schools. One need only take a trip through Mississippi, Philadelphia, or on NJ Transit trains, where I witnessed the following exchange among adults attempting to post on Facebook: “How do you spell “ain’t?” “I-a-n-t.” The conversation devolved from there…and was as heartbreaking as it was disturbing; and the rift it represents is only deepening.

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