Slimantics: A vote for the future honors the past

November 3, 2020 10:28:29 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]

 

By the time you read this, you may have already voted in this year's election. If you haven't, what are you waiting for? Polls are open until 7 p.m., so it's not too late to exercise your right to vote, thus fulfilling an important obligation of citizenship.

 

While all presidential elections are historic, this year's election seems to have taken on a heightened sense of urgency. With more than 100 million votes cast by early-voting and absentee-voting before the polls opened this morning, this year's election is projected to have the highest voter turn-out, by percentage of eligible voters, since 1908.

 

But it is another presidential election I am thinking of today.

 

 

One hundred years ago, on Nov. 2, 1920, something happened in Mississippi and 27 other states that had never happened before: Women voted in the election, something made possible by the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in August of that year.

 

While women in 20 states were allowed to vote prior to 1920, the election was the first time women in all of the then-48 states were "given" the right to vote. Of 27 million women who were suddenly eligible to vote, nine million cast their votes in the 1920 presidential election.

 

It is a misnomer to say that women were "given" the right to vote, of course. Better stated, women "won" the right to vote in a 74-year fight for suffrage. The women who initiated that fight did not live to see it completed. The women who saw it pass were not born when the fight began.

 

Each year, women in Rochester, New York, pay homage to one of the pioneers of the Suffrage Movement. On election day, women visit the grave site of Susan B. Anthony to place their "I Voted" stickers on her headstone.

 

As we know, the passage of the 19th Amendment did not create universal suffrage. For Black citizens, the fight continued another 45 years after the 1920 election. The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 restored voting privileges to Black citizens, especially in the Jim Crow South, where Blacks were prevented from voting through intimidation and laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests.

 

In thinking about the tribute to Susan B. Anthony in New York, I wondered if we here in Columbus could begin a similar tradition, acknowledging those who fought for Black voting rights in our community.

 

I asked MSMS history teacher Chuck Yarborough, who has become the city's unofficial historian of Black history in Columbus, for his thoughts on what would be a suitable place.

 

He said there are two notable gravesites at Sandfield Cemetery -- those of Sen. Robert Gleed and Rep. Jesse F. Bouden -- both of whom served in the state legislature between the end of the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction.

 

Another possible site, he said, is the monument located on Catfish Alley, which bears the names of many Black leaders of the era, men and women who stood strong in the face of attempts to suppress Black voting and participation in their government.

 

So, if you happen past Catfish Alley this afternoon, you'll notice at least one "I Voted" sticker on the monument.

 

I can't think of anything that would better honor their memory.

 

So vote, if you haven't already.

 

And if you're wondering what to do with that "I Voted" sticker you were handed as you left the polls, I hope you'll join me in a visit to Catfish Alley.

 

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]