Alabama requires a photo ID to vote.
This week Alabama decided to announce that it would stop issuing driver’s licenses in certain counties because of budget cuts. Those counties happen to contain the highest percentage of nonwhite voters, an AL.com columnist has pointed out.
According to the report, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced (pdf) Wednesday that 31 satellite state Motor Vehicle Division offices would no longer have access to driver’s license examiners as a result of the cuts, meaning that residents will have to travel to other counties in order to take care of their licensing needs.
AL.com’s John Archibald was quick to notice that this new change, coming one year after the voter photo-ID law took effect, does not appear to be a coincidence. He is calling for the Department of Justice to open an investigation, the site notes.
“Because Alabama just took a giant step backward,” he wrote. “Take a look at the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters. That’s Macon, Greene, Sumter, Lowndes, Bullock, Perry, Wilcox, Dallas, Hale, and Montgomery, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. Alabama, thanks to its budgetary insanity and inanity, just opted to close driver license bureaus in eight of them.
There were many who have died for the right of others to vote so when a state who has a very dark history of discriminating against people of color decides that 31 driver license offices should be closed in areas highly populated by people of color, there is a serious problem.
We remember them forever as the three civil rights workers were murdered or maybe murdered in Philadelphia and Mississippi in 1964. What we remember about them particularly today is that what they were doing in Philadelphia and Mississippi, what they were risking their lives for, and what they ultimately gave their lives for specifically was voting rights in Mississippi. They were registering people to vote, registering African- Americans to vote as part of an effort called the Mississippi Freedom Summer. And they died for it.
The man who coordinated Mississippi Freedom Summer for the SNCC, for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was John Lewis. In March 1965, the year after Freedom Summer, it was John Lewis and Josiah Williams who led a group of 600 protesters on a march that started in Selma, Alabama. We also as Americans remember forever Selma.
But what we remember particularly today about Selma is what they were marching for specifically, again, was voting rights. What they were trying to do was march nonviolently this distance, from the city of Selma to the state capitol of Alabama, to the state capitol, which is Montgomery, about 50 miles away.
They were stopped that first day when they were trying to march that distance before they ever got out of Selma. Here, trying to cross the Alabama River to get out of town, to get out of Selma, the 600 peaceful protesters were met by hundreds of Alabama state police and local police.
The policemen attacked the protesters. They used tear gas on them. They beat them with billy clubs. The protesters were whipped and stomped on by police horses.
The leader of the march, John Lewis, took a billy club to the head. He very easily could have died on that bridge that day. Seventeen of the marchers were sent to the hospital. That happened on Sunday, bloody Sunday, March 7th.
Now I said that they did not get out of Selma that day when they were beaten on that bridge. But the nation was horrified. And the movement was galvanized. And two days after bloody Sunday, two days later on Tuesday, March 9th, they went back. Only this time it was not 600 people marching that route nonviolently, this time it was not 600, it was 2,500 people marching that same route. And they marched to that bridge again.
And then a week later, they took on that march again, only this time, they were protected by thousands of U.S. Army soldiers and national guardsmen acting under federal command.
And by the time that speech, that march, excuse me, ended up at the Montgomery state capitol, it was not 600 people, it was not 2,500 people, it was 25,000 people.
And that was when Martin Luther King gave his “How Long, Not Long” speech at the state capitol.
The night before that last march started, the president of the United States convened a joint session of Congress to address the crisis and to demand a very specific response. This is the night, of course, when President Lyndon Baines Johnson in his Texas drawl said live on national TV, “We shall overcome.”
“Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one,” Archibald added. “But maybe it’s not racial at all, right? Maybe it’s just political. And let’s face it, it may not be either. But no matter the intent, the consequence is the same.”
Archibald called the move “not just a civil rights violation” or a “public relations nightmare.”
“It is an affront to the very notion of justice in a nation where one man one vote is as precious as oxygen,” he wrote. “It is a slap in the face to all who believe the stuff we teach the kids about how all are created equal.”
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