Once again, the right to vote under attack in America

On June 21, 1964, three civil rights activists – Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman – disappeared in Mississippi. They were working as part of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, registering black people to vote.

Less than 7% of black Mississippians were registered to vote. They were denied the right to vote because of fake literacy tests, intimidation and violence. It was simple voter suppression.

Schwerner and Goodman were white, Jewish and from New York. Chaney was black and originally from Mississippi. All three were in their twenties. Schwerner was married.

A deputy sheriff arrested them outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, and took them to the Neshoba County Jail. Chaney was charged with speeding. The other two have been retained for investigation.

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They were released around 10 p.m., after the local Ku Klux Klan was tipped off and were able to stage a lynching. The same deputy sheriff who took them to jail followed them after they were released.

He arrested them again and this time delivered the three to a gang of Klansmen on Rock Cut Road, where they were shot.

Their bodies were buried in a dam under construction at Old Jolly Farm. The land belonged to Olen Burrage, one of the wealthiest men in Neshoba County.

FBI field agents searched for the three men. Eventually they got a tip on where the bodies were buried.

Finally, after 44 days, their bodies were dug up.

Mississippi state authorities declined to bring murder charges against any of the Klan members. But in 1967, the federal government brought charges of civil rights violations against 18 Klan members.

Only seven Klansmen have been convicted and no one has served more than six years in prison.

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Then, in 2005, in a very different racial and political climate, a Neshoba County grand jury indicted Edgar Ray Killen, a minister who helped organize the lynching, on three counts of murder. He was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Killen died in prison in 2018, just before his 93rd birthday.

The murders of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman spurred passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant achievements of the civil rights movement.

It is important for us to remember that these three men were in Mississippi, working to make voting accessible to people who were denied the right to vote.

Efforts to stop voter suppression, however, are not relegated solely to the events of half a century ago.

It is also a battle for today.

The Brennan Center for Justice, named after the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, reports, “Since the 2020 election, the nation’s voting systems have come under unprecedented attack from multiple angles. Laws that make it more difficult to vote, Laws that sabotage the electoral process. Threats and harassment directed against election officials. Extreme racial and partisan manipulation.

Let’s be clear about voter suppression. It is not a bipartisan movement.

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Nick Corasaniti of The New York Times observed that the Republican Party has “taken a two-pronged approach: imposing additional restrictions on voting (especially mail-in voting) and giving Republican-controlled state legislatures greater control over election administration.”

According to the Brennan Center, 19 states have passed 34 laws restrict voting in 2021. Texas was one of those states.

Will Wilder and Stuart Baum of the Brennan Center report it the provisions of SB 1, passed last year by the Republican-dominated Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, “target election officials and workers and make it more difficult to vote by mail.”

The law imposes new identification requirements on mail-in ballots and “threatens election officials and workers with new criminal penalties for expanding voter access or even simply encouraging eligible voters to request mail-in ballots.” correspondence”, according to Wilder and Baum.

The National Urban League, in its recent report on the state of black America, notes that “attacks on suffrage and American democracy are making it harder for black people to achieve racial equality.”

The report notes that “Congress’s map overhaul, extremely strict voter ID laws, and efforts to discredit votes are attempts to silence black voices.”

Fifty-eight years after the murders of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, we find ourselves in a new battle for the right to vote. Honor their lives by working for the right to vote, not suppressing them.

Roger C. Barnes is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of the Incarnate Word.

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