In the refined air of the United States Supreme Court, the questions posed by justices on Wednesday seemed so big as to be unanswerable: Are parts of the Voting Rights Act an unfair infringement on state sovereignty? How different is the South these days from other regions, and from itself in bloody years past? Here in southwest Mississippi, those questions are as real and solid as the longleaf pines. A run-down brick house on this street was bombed by segregationists in the summer of 1964; a few blocks away is a boarded-up supermarket that was bombed the same summer. Down the road is the town where a Mississippi state representative shot a black voting-rights activist. A black man who was witness to that shooting was killed soon after, and the men sitting in the back of the local drugstore still debate what the witness, whom they knew, was planning to say. The McComb project, as it was called by civil rights workers in 1961, was one of the early battles in a long and bloody war for voting rights in the South, a crucible for future leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who drilled black residents to pass the constitutional literacy tests and in return for their civic engagement were shot at, jailed and beaten.
Most people here, whites and blacks, agree that that was a very bad time. They also, generally, agree that things are much better now.
But on the more specific question on the necessity of Section 5, which requires nine states, most of them Southern, to submit voting changes for federal approval, opinions begin to separate. And by and large, there is a relatively easy test here to tell what a person is likely to think, and it comes down to the person’s skin color.
“I have to agree that it was very bad,” said Hollis Watkins, 72, a leader of the McComb project who sang spirituals to his fellow civil rights workers as they languished in jail in 1961.
“But based on where we are now, and understanding their way of camouflaging things, instead of it being very bad, it’s bad,” added Mr. Watkins, who is still active in civil rights work in Mississippi.
Full Article: A Divide on Voting Rights Where Blood Spilled – NYTimes.com.