Black History Month and Voting Rights

The+Black+Student+Union+set+up+a+memorial+for+various+black+individuals+who+have+made+impacts+throughout+history.

Soraia Bohner

The Black Student Union set up a memorial for various black individuals who have made impacts throughout history.

Black History Month and Government Failures to Recognize It

Black History Month: One that should be spent honoring Civil Rights leaders, grassroots leaders, and those working to uplift their communities. But in the highest level of government, voting rights are under attack, and historically, voter suppression has heavily impacted Black Americans.

A History of “Progress”

Since America’s founding, Black Americans were viewed as beneath White Americans. America’s Constitution, labeled a “freedom document” counts out African Americans, denying them citizenship all the way up until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862. 

But their oppression did not end there. Even with the addition of the Reconstruction Amendments, the passage of Jim Crow laws and the acceptance of separate but equal facilities, restricted Black Americans from true equality.

“History has proven that America’s founding documents don’t protect minority rights, in fact, the framers went out of their way to make sure they didn’t have rights,” said Tom Li (‘22).

Landmark rulings, such as the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), banned segregated facilities and helped advance African American Rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson furthered these acts by banning workplace discrimination based on uncontrollable factors. 

Modern Failure

But in the modern day, landmark legislation and progressive court rulings are seemingly non-existent. In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the court ruled that section 4b of the Voting Rights Act, the one that protected minorities in historically discriminatory districts, was gutted and ruled unconstitutional. Since then, thousands of polling locations have been closed, many of them concentrated in minority districts. 

“The Shelby decision was one of the worst rulings of the modern court. Voting allows for people to participate in every aspect of government. After this decision, minorities have a much more diluted voter power,” said Jayani Chidipotu (‘22).

In some states, these stripped protections have allowed for discriminatory laws to be placed surrounding voting. In Arizona, House Bill 2023 which limits voting drop off, was upheld by the Supreme Court in Brnovich v Democratic National Committee (2021), restricting access to voting and targeting African and Native Americans. Similarly, Georgia Senate Bill 202 allows for the political party in power to usurp nearly all election powers and limit handing out water to voters in long lines, specifically in minority districts. 

“These new laws really show how times have not fully changed. There are more protections for minorities, but voting rights are still most fully extended to white Americans,” said Li.

As of January 2022, the Freedom to Vote Act and The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act have passed through the House of Representatives, but have yet to pass through the Senate and will likely be blocked by the filibuster. This raises the question of whether Black History Month is truly recognized by Americans, or whether it is just performative activism.

“Black History Month does not get enough recognition in society. It’s one of the shortest months, and I feel that it’s overlooked and unappreciated,” said Black Student Union Co-President Dara Perkins-Orango (‘22).

Despite having control of the Senate and the potential of both voting rights bills passing against a filibuster, two Democratic senators–Arizona’s Krysten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin–have prevented Democrats from passing progressive legislation that would advance the voting rights of Black Americans and other minorities. 

“Overall, our rights, like natural rights, are protected, but other movements have tried to fight for unprotected minority rights not in the constitution… We still have a long way to go,” said Perkins-Orango.