Collective Memory Runs Deep: A Southern Reflection on the Voting Rights Act Decision

July 8, 2013

My mother voted in her first election in 1968. A recent nursing school graduate from a historically black college, she cast her ballot for Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey in Greensboro, North Carolina — not in her hometown of Lake City, South Carolina.

South Carolina was willing to pay her out-of-state college tuition to get her — that troublesome property, an educated black person — to go, and preferably stay, elsewhere.

South Carolina was also unapologetically recalcitrant in complying with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. First to secede from the Union and jumpstart the Civil War, South Carolina had also been the first state to challenge the VRA’s constitutionality. In the 1966 Supreme Court case South Carolina v. Katzenbach, the state took aim at the stipulation that states with a record of blocking black voters would have to “pre-clear” or get federal government approval for any election-law changes. In South Carolina’s view, the Voting Rights Act trampled on a state’s right to run its own elections — including by employing, for example, literacy tests explicitly designed to disqualify black voters.


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