When it comes to suppression of Black votes, it’s the 19th century all over again
By Colbert I. King,
When it comes to voter suppression, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the goals of the post-Reconstruction Ku Klux Klan and the intention of today’s Donald Trump Republicans. Their common endeavor? Make it harder for people of color to vote.
The targets of the Klan then were communities that posed serious political threats. Thus, the KKK concentrated on formerly enslaved Black men, Black elected officials and their supporters, as National Geographic noted.
Today, Trump’s Republican allies are targeting communities that are home mainly to people of color.
Of course the difference between the turn of the 20th century and now is a matter of tactics. But let’s follow the common thread through American history.
The Klan’s calling card was violence rendered in the dark of night by men disguised in white hoods and robes. The primary weapon was fear.
No act of terror went too far. Cross-burning, kidnapping, murder and lynching were deployed to keep Blacks from the polls.
The post-Civil War era also brought forth a group of White people who thought of themselves as “Redeemers” — Southern “patriots” out to rescue Old Dixie from an encroaching federal government, with aims to restore white supremacy and maintain power over Black voters through gerrymandering, electoral intimidation and unfair ballot laws.
The Klan’s decline gave rise to Jim Crow laws throughout the South that officially authorized racism in places of public accommodation and placed race-laden roadblocks across paths to the voting booth. That shameful era also birthed the poll tax, literacy tests and the “grandfather clause” that allowed White men who failed literacy tests to vote if their grandfathers had voted by 1867.
The voter suppression tactics of 2020 don’t involve the KKK’s night rides, it’s true, but they are equally focused on controlling Election Day outcomes that favor folks who disfavor folks of color.
Thus, we witness today’s purges of voter rolls in Black communities; onerous voter-ID and witness-signature laws; changes to the terms and requirements of voter registration; limitations on polling places; curtailed early voting; and the disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions — even after other voters have affirmed their right to vote.
True, those attacks on voting haven’t led to emergency rooms or cemeteries. If allowed to stand, however, such restrictions can be just as effective at stripping electoral power from Black Americans and other people of color.
Voting vandalism is not all that voters of a darker hue must contend with this year. Staring them in the face is the “army” of supporters that President Trump wants to see descend upon polling places to “monitor” voter behavior. The prospect of Trump’s unofficial army of thugs lurking around voting precincts may be intimidating enough to scare off some Democratic voters. A depressed turnout among Black voters would spell victory for voter suppression.
Trump’s relentless supporters have made surreptitious efforts to suppress the Black vote into an art form. The latest unmasking came with discovery by social media researchers of dozens of fake accounts of supposed Black supporters of Trump that push out to tens of thousands a narrative that attempts to soften Trump’s racist image and, by extension, dissuade Black voters from backing Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris. A non-vote for the Democratic ticket is a vote for Trump and his sidekick, Mike Pence.
Not to be undone, Trump is using the bully pulpit to do his part on behalf of voter suppression. He’s using — no, make that abusing — his office as a platform from which to scream bloody murder about the “problem” of voter fraud. In fact, the only fraud being perpetrated is Trump’s bogus charge.
Not only is Trump trying to chill turnout, but he is also laying the groundwork for legal challenges of an election he fears losing.
Again, Trump’s behavior is tied to the past. He spews the same voter-fraud fiction conjured up during the Reconstruction era to discredit and suppress the votes of newly freed slaves.
A small sample of Trump’s tweeted lies on June 22: “RIGGED 2020 ELECTIONS: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES.”
Don’t laugh. The scandal is that Trump and his backers might get away with it — just as the Ku Klux Klan, the Redeemers and Deep South governments suppressed Black voters for generations.
But only, knowing what we know, if we let them.
Folks, it’s the 19th century all over again. We must act like we have learned something in the past 150 years. Let no roadblock separate you from your rights. Vote!
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.
Read more: Colbert I. King: I’m focused on Trump’s defeat. The rest I am still working on. George F. Will: The election’s winner will confront a disorderly world. Which candidate do you want in charge? Colbert I. King: Don’t waste your breath trying to change Trumpists’ minds. Just vote. Jennifer Rubin: Trump confesses to voter suppression Eugene Robinson: Trump is shouting his racism. He must be stopped. Alyssa Rosenberg: At Trump’s NBC town hall, reality strikes back at a reality-show president