by Jonathan Gramling
frightening and troubling times.
But we’ve been here before!
Back in the end of the 1960s at the end of the Civil War, Congress passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution that
ended slavery and gave the recently freed Africans who were slaves the rights of citizenship including the right to vote. And under the
watchful eye of Federal troops stationed across the former Confederate states in the South, African Americans embraced their freedom and
democracy. And participate they did.
During this period called Reconstruction, two African Americans were elected to the U.S. Senate, Hiram Revels — who went on to become
the first president of what would become Alcorn State University, one of my alma maters — and Blanche Bruce. There were at least 13
African Americans elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and hundreds more were elected to local and state governmental bodies. One
must remember that this was before the Great Migration. African Americans were in the majority in Mississippi and other states of the Old
African Americans loved democracy!
But there were regressive forces in the South and elsewhere who didn’t want African Americans electing their leaders. The Ku Klux Klan,
Knights of the White Camellia, the White League and the Red Shirts were formed as white terrorist groups who inflicted violence and death on
African Americans pursuing the rights and benefits of their newfound freedom. With the removal of Federal troops after the Compromise of
1876, this era of terror ushered in a regime of white supremacy.
Poll taxes and other restrictive laws were passed to suppress the African American vote when the reign of terror was not enough. And in
1896, a regressive U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessey vs. Ferguson that separate but equal was constitutional. America’s apartheid system
became the law of the land in the South and de facto, in many places in the North as well.
The regressive forces had won and ruled the land.
But we’ve been here before.
While it took nearly 70 years, the Civil Rights Movement in all of its manifestations continuously worked against America’s apartheid system
known as segregation. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Plessey vs. Ferguson with its Brown vs. Board of Education decision and
declared that separate can never be equal. The many facets of the modern Civil Rights Movement would not be deterred and the march
toward justice and freedom took on the momentum of history symbolized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his use of agape love to claim the
moral high ground and lead the movement to achieve the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Under the watchful eye of the Federal government, African Americans once again embraced democracy and headed to the polls in record
numbers. Hundreds of African Americans were elected to local, state and federal positions. Edward Brooke from Massachusetts became the
first African American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction in 1967. And in 2008, the first African American was elected U.S.
President, Barack Obama.
And it was the surge of voting by African Americans in many of the key electoral battleground states like Wisconsin that put Barack Obama
over the top.
But regressive forces in the country and Wisconsin were not going to be having African Americans electing their leaders.
In 2013, a regressive U.S. Supreme Court gutted key portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, essentially withdrawing once more Federal
protection for African American voters.
And in Wisconsin, regressive leaders like State Senator Glenn Grothman were appalled that African American voters, particularly from
Milwaukee County, pushed Barack Obama over the top in Wisconsin and in the nation in the Electoral College. Grothman and others screamed
that it must have been voter fraud — that was never proven — that elected President Obama.
In 2010, in part through the vilification of African Americans in Milwaukee County to appeal to racist sentiments in other parts of Wisconsin,
Republicans took over Wisconsin state government. And with a conservative Republican governor in place, Grothman and others pushed
through Voter ID and other restrictive measures to restrict the African American vote and the vote of other people of color and
gerrymandered voting districts to ensure they would stay in power. Regressive forces have never embraced democracy.
And now with the appointment of regressive jurist Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court is once again set to make rulings that will further
restrict the rights of women and people of color on the order of Plessey vs. Ferguson.
These are indeed frightening and troubling times. But we have been here before.
And like those who came before us, we must once again fight the hate with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s agape love and once more set this
country on the arc of justice.
It is only by voting in record numbers, in spite of the restrictions and the negativity, that once again the tide of regression can be turned back.
Get people registered and take them to the polls on November 6th.
We must Fight Hate! Vote!
We've been here before
One of the biggest honors that I have received in recent years was being asked to be the emcee at this
year’s NAACP Dane County Freedom Fund Banquet held September 28th at the Concourse Hotel. What
made it even more meaningful was that Hilary Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington, D.C.
office was the keynote speaker.
I rarely write my remarks down before I speak because I want to be engaged with the people I am
addressing and not focused on a piece of paper in front of me, although I must admit I wrote down
some bullet points for my remarks in case I faltered speaking at such an important event. The theme of
the banquet was Defeat Hate! Vote! And so I tried to set the table, so to speak, with my opening
remarks. What follows is an approximation of those remarks.
My thoughts tonight are with the 20 families whose lives were shattered this past week with the ICE
raids in Dane County and elsewhere. Many of them are breadwinners for the family. And even though
the children are reassured that it won’t happen to them because they are U.S. citizens, still they worry
because as they rub their skin, they ask, ‘But what about the color of my skin?’ These are indeed