“No, Gertrude, you can’t go. I might not make it back, and somebody has to stay here and raise these girls.” With those words, my grandfather, farmer James DeWitt Rhoden, left his wife and two daughters in the late 1930s and set off for downtown Quitman, Texas to vote. He knew that his mission could end his life. As he mounted the tall steps of the Wood County courthouse, a crowd of hostile white men closed in behind him. “DeWitt! Where do you think you’re going?” He never turned around. Perhaps because they knew he wouldn’t go down alone, my grandfather was allowed to cast his vote and return home to his family. Decades later, my mother (his daughter) related this story to me. History may record that the longest war in the history of the United States was neither the Vietnam War nor the war in Afghanistan, but the ongoing war against disenfranchisement, which is the denial of the right to vote. History has also shown us that lynching and other forms of vigilantism were leveled at blacks who attempted to vote.
… Though voting rights for African Americans were codified in 1965 through hard-fought legislation, maintaining those rights requires constant vigilance. But today if you’re not “the right kind” of voter, efforts are constantly underway to make it inconvenient, if not impossible, to cast your ballot.
These efforts at disenfranchisement have their pedigree in the states’ rights arguments of old. Rather than eliminating voting rights for large segments of the population at the federal level, Republican legislators and governors have chosen to eviscerate them via vicious cuts at the state level.
These actions were facilitated by Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down Section 4, a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. That section had required nine southern states to obtain pre-clearance before making substantive changes to voting procedures, such as redrawing district lines or relocating polling places.
With these restrictions eliminated, states were free to make unfettered changes that would virtually disenfranchise thousands. The war entered a new front.