Commentary

Survivor of Jim Crow helps lead challenge to voter suppression laws

Photo: thinkprogress.org

Photo: www.thinkprogress.org

If you need something to bolster your resolve to keep battling for justice this afternoon, check out this story on the U.K.-based news site, The Guardian about one of the driving forces in the court challenge to North Carolina’s “monster voting law.” The story profiles 93-year-old Rosanell Eaton — an African-American woman and NAACP activist with vivid memories from her younger days of previous efforts by conservative, white politicians to deny her the right to vote.

And then there was the day in 1939 when Rosanell turned 18 and gained the right to vote. She was a vibrant young woman, eager to learn and engage with the world, and determined to have her electoral say at the first chance. But when she arrived at Franklin County courthouse, she was met by three white officials.

“What are you here for, young lady?” one of them asked.

“I’m here to register to vote,” she said.

The men looked at each other, then back at her. “Stand in front of us,” she was instructed. “Look directly at us. Don’t turn your head to the right, nor to the left. Now repeat the preamble to the constitution of the United States.”

It was a common ruse at the time, one of several that electoral officials used to deprive black people of the vote. Aspiring black voters would be asked to count beans in a barrel, or name their state’s entire congressional delegation. If they couldn’t, they were turned away. But Eaton just stood there and recited from memory the preamble to the US constitution, without a glitch.

“Well, little lady,” one of the officials conceded. “You did it.”

Rosanell Eaton is now 93. To her consternation, she finds herself once again facing an obstacle that she believes is designed, just as it was 75 years ago, to disenfranchise her and her fellow black North Carolinians. In July 2013 the state’s Republican-controlled general assembly pushed through HB 589, a law that in several ways makes it more difficult for those who are young, older, poor and, especially, African American to participate in the democratic process.

Read the rest of this maddening but still inspiring story by clicking here.

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