By Barney Blakeney
Okay, I promise this will be my last column about the November 5 municipal elections – or maybe not. I’m still seething about the performance of Black voters. It seems too many of us just don’t get it. I’m convinced the power of education, economics and politics will set my people free. But like a sleeping bear, we allow that power to lie dormant.
Black folks aren’t the only ethnic group that sits at home, or wherever neglecting to vote, but Black folks can least afford to abandon that asset. By pretty much every measuring stick, Black folks are last. Governmental elections are among the only places where Black folks can make their collective voice heard in ways that truly impact our quality of life.
Only about 21 percent – or about 55,000 of the county’s 262,000 registered voters – cast ballots in the November 5 municipal elections. Not every municipality held elections, but the big three – Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant did. Heck there are over 18,000 registered Black voters in Charleston alone. In North Charleston where there are some 54,000 registered voters, more than half are Black. But white voters out-vote them every election. Only about 12,000 voters total cast ballots in the mayoral race. Black voters in North Charleston can elect a mayor!
Representatives in all 10 North Charleston City Council districts were elected. Michael A. Brown (Young Mike) was unopposed, but received more votes than any other Black incumbent – who all were re-elected. Young Mike got 841 votes and had no opposition! Older Mike on the southern end in District 10 got 729; Virginia Jamison got 646; Jerome Heyward, the new guy, got 663; Dot William got 444; and Sam Hart got 320. None received 1,000 votes. Two white incumbents got over 1,000 votes – Ron Brinson and Kenny Skipper.
Tell me; is that an indication of complacency or negligence? I think it’s an indication of miseducation. Let me explain. Black folks have been inundated with this thing about registering to vote, but never were educated about voting – about how it can be used to determine their quality of life. In the past, Septima P. Clark and Esau Jenkins conducted Citizenship School classes to teach Black folks literacy and what their votes could mean. We abandoned all that. Today, Black folks will tell you their vote doesn’t count. If your vote doesn’t count, why did all those Black martyrs die?
I recently asked Trident Tech Professor Donald West about Black voting in America. Here’s what he said: “At least two African Americans were elected to office during the Colonial period (1607-1775). So, some states before 1828 included black voters too. That included Tennessee and North Carolina. After 1834, no blacks were allowed the vote. The 15th Amendment (1870) brought about universal male suffrage. This was during the Reconstruction period. Between 1870-1902, African American men who attempted to vote faced multiple challenges preventing them (incarceration, poll taxes, moral clause, grandfather clause, and literacy test) including violence. During the same period, hundreds of thousands of black men were removed from the polls.”
In the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement increased pressure on the federal government to protect the voting rights of racial minorities. In 1957, Congress passed the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction: the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the civil rights movement on August 6, 1965 was designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and is considered to be the most effective piece of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.
In a few months, local Black voters again will go to the polls to exercise their right to vote in the Democratic presidential primaries. Many of those who depend on our continued miseducation hope not only that we stay away from the polls, but that those of us who do vote do so in an uninformed manner. The 2020 elections, I believe, will be pivotal in Black folks continued struggle to survive in America. Our haters are emboldened. Our vote is among the last weapons we have at our disposal. We must use it and use it wisely.