None of us was alive for the original Jim Crow laws back in the 1920s which made racial segregation legal in the southern United States. “Colored only” washrooms, poll taxes, “back of the bus” and IQ tests asking “how many bubbles in a bar of soap?” weren’t just the rule, they were the law.
Jim Crow laws were crushed by the relentless march of social progress. Or it seemed so until Donald Trump was elected President in 2016 and Republicans decided that one way to stop them was voter suppression.
Their thinking was, if we can keep Blacks and their white and Latino friends, and young people from voting at all, we’ll win again in 2020.
They didn’t. But far from discouraging their use of a blatantly racist set of laws, losing has spawned a whole raft of new ways to keep Black people down by keeping Black voting down. This isn’t happening in Washington, but at the state and county level. As of last month, lawmakers have introduced 253 bills that restrict voting access in 43 of America’s 50 states.
The flashpoint is Georgia, where Republican Governor Brian Kemp last week signed a 98-page bill under a painting of a slave plantation that would make it a crime to provide food or water to people standing in line to vote; shorten polling hours so poorer voters can’t get to the polls; end early voting hours on Sundays, when many Black voters are at church; demand multiple ID requirements; and limit drop-off points for mail-in voting.
I suppose this is revenge for Georgia electing the two Democratic senators (one Black, one Jewish) which gives the Democrats a majority in the Senate, and which allows Joe Biden’s agenda to move forward at all. In fact, Biden & Co have already pushed their For the People Act through the House of Representatives. The Act’s full title is: “An Act to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures…..”
The Bill is now going to the Senate where the Republicans are already trying to stop it via a filibuster, a form of death-by-delay unique to the US Senate which has killed decades of civil rights legislation.
Biden’s response is to try to do away with the filibuster. As Heather Cox Richardson noted in an oddly emotional blog on March 25: “If Republicans block this measure, the extraordinary state laws designed to guarantee that Democrats can never win another election will stay in effect, and America as a whole will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state….If the Republicans get their way, no matter how popular Democrats are, they will never again get to direct the government.”
Are things really as bad as this?
After all, lawmakers in a different set of 43 states have also introduced more than 700 bills to widen access to voting.
Governor Kemp, who also had six white male Georgia legislators by his side when he signed last week’s bill, didn’t take kindly to all the mutterings that his bill is racist. “There’s nothing ‘Jim Crow’ about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot – every Georgia voter must already do so when voting in person,” he said. “President Biden, the left, and the national media are determined to destroy the sanctity and security of the ballot box.”
I think he’s right about state-issued ID, by the way. Not every part of Kemp’s bill is blatantly racist. Some of it is only secondarily so.
But whenever I hear words like “sanctity” and “integrity”, I get suspicious.
As Carol Anderson noted in her 2018 book One Person, No Vote, “In 1890…the Magnolia State passed the Mississippi Plan, a dizzying array of poll taxes, literacy tests, understanding clauses, newfangled voter registration rules, and “good character” clauses—all intentionally racially discriminatory but dressed up in the genteel garb of bringing “integrity” to the voting booth.”
Sadly, we’re all alive for Jim Crow 2.0.