By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette — When it comes to the reduction of the Voter Rights Act of 1965, some people just can’t won’t their victory trophy.
Buffalo preacher Darius Pridgen once spoke at a Niagara Falls MLK event on the subject of, “Are we there yet?” In other words, have we, African-Americans, reached the level of equality of which Martin L. King once spoke?
Even with New Yorkers electing blacks as mayors, countless numbers as state and other legislators, a state comptroller, a lieutenant governor who became governor, and a president, we are not yet quite there.
But we are close; we are only about six or seven inches away — and that is the distance between our own ears. Sadly, it is how we think about ourselves, and our own inability to recognize the signs of success.
Take the case of Georgia Democratic Congressman John Lewis, who claims to have spent his entire life working for the equality for all Americans.
When the Supreme Court ruled on stripping a key component of the Voter Rights Act, Lewis is quoted as saying, “I think what the court did today is stab the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart.”
But Mr. Lewis, weren’t you working to create the circumstances in which such a law would not be necessary?
Well, congratulations — you won. But if you believed in what you were doing, then the question should have always been, “When will America reach the plateau of Dr. King’s Mountaintop where affirmative action, including the Voter Rights Act, will be deemed completely unnecessary?”
Many of us didn’t recognize that inevitable. Five years ago, in a Niagara Gazette published column, I first asked the question if affirmative action would end with an Obama win. I got a lot of negative feedback with that one; but lo and behold, I’ll be doggone it, it did!
Most Niagarans don’t realize that certain provisions of the Voter Rights Act do not apply to us, however, implicitly it negatively affected Niagara County’s ridiculously drawn Fourth District and surrounding areas.
The Fourth District is a hodgepodge of convolutedly drawn lines that literally lassos enough of the African-Americans who were trying to escape the conditions of the old Second District, making it just a poor, marginally minority-majority reservation. Because of such, it has ironically left the people there so bereft of inspiration that the district elected a person to represent them who themselves cannot escape the need for public housing occupancy. Maybe it is marginalizing progress for blacks in other areas, too; perhaps, even in Shelby County.
In the case of Shelby County Alabama vs. Holder, it seems that a bunch of southern whites have sued the powerful black US Attorney General Eric Holder and said that both his and President Obama’s oversight of voting laws in Shelby County, and in other counties throughout the United States, are no longer necessary.
Shelby County based a large part of their assertions of that lack of need on having a black attorney general and a black president. The Supreme Court, with its six white men, a Jewish woman, a Hispanic woman and one black male, collectively affirmed that Shelby was right — albeit mostly along political philosophies.
Nevertheless, despite his successes, Congressman Lewis, once a very young civil rights activist who had his head busted open during an early 1960s civil rights march, now complains about his own success in reaching equality.
A lot of us complain, even after six-years ago, during a heated primary between the largely inexperienced senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the now much older Lewis did what many African-Americans did, and turned his back on the young black senator from Illinois and supported Clinton. We agree can that it was his voting right to do so.
Get this — it didn’t take a Voter Rights Act to get him to change his mind and to ride the Obama buggy to victory. What it took in Atlanta is what it takes in every democracy everywhere; and that is the voices of the people telling their elected officials that either they represent their constituents’ wishes, or they find employment elsewhere.
Lewis got the message, supported Obama and he kept his job. But like Lewis, so many of us rue the woeful message that we have won a bitter-sweet victory and have moved a little further up MLK’s mountaintop of equality as a result of what just happened. Maybe it will echo in the Fourth District and throughout America.
Hey, Reverend Pridgen; can you whisper those 6-inches into Reverend King’s ear that we are almost there?
Contact Ken Hamilton at email@example.com.Contact Ken Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.