Sunday, December 1, 2013

Many Rivers to Cross - Remembering a Local Activist

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
A More Perfect Union 1968-2013

The first time I voted was during the time period covered in the last episode of Many Rivers to Cross. I was 19 years old in 1974 voting in a local election.

My immediate family were not activists, not political, and I don't think any members participated in the Civil Rights Movement. My mother never registered to vote; she didn't believe voting would improve her life. An uncle and aunt didn't see the benefits of voting, they depended on God. Another uncle never believed white folks would change. Aunt Alice did register to vote and I think she first voted in the 1968 presidential election. My father first voted in the 1976 presidential election.

Reverend Sutton, neighbor and assistant principal of the neighborhood elementary school, strongly encouraged his former students to register to vote as soon as they turned 18.

A movement to a more perfect union occurred when I was a teenager. Giving 18 years old the right to vote was an extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The provision was struck down by the Supreme Court, which concluded Congress didn't have the authority to set the voting age for state elections.

Pressure was put on Congress and state houses to pass a constitutional amendment because it was unfair to send 18, 19, 20 years old to fight in the Vietnam War when they couldn't vote for or against their elected leaders. Within four months after the Congress submitted it to the states, the amendment was ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

"The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age." The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Reverend Sutton encouraged me to register. He worked with the Registrar's Office to allow us to register at the school for a couple Saturday mornings. Reverend Sutton knew most of us didn't have transportation and many didn't have the support or encouragement from our households.

Many Rivers to Cross didn't cover the local activist, people whose names would never make a history book. The local activist knew their communities and how to work within their communities to help others cross one more river.

The African Americans Many Rivers to Cross Blogging Circle


  1. The local activist plays a very important role at the grassroots level. I can't remember anyone ever encouraging me to vote when I was young. I'm about the same age as you--but I don't think that I voted in the first elections that I would have been eligible to vote in.

    1. Mr Sutton was my 9th grade science teacher, lived one street from me, he was a pastor of one of the churches in the community, assistant principal, and very passionate about getting people register to vote. A couple of friends registered the month of their 18th birthday. It took me a year.

  2. My first eligible election would have been 1968. After watching the police running amuck and beating people down outside of the Democratic Convention in Chicago, I refused to vote. I remember being at my grandmother Cleage's dinner table and my father telling me I should vote because I could vote for a third party and if I didn't vote at all my protest wouldn't be counted. My Uncle Louis told him I must have a good reason and leave me alone. I was 21. Voting for Nixon wasn't an option. I voted ever since then.

    I agree, the series left a lot out. I know it was only 6 weeks, but still, I was disappointed.

    1. Both your dad and uncle were wise men. There have been a few times when I am almost running to vote, other times I have to grab my self in the collar and pull me out the door.