Gadsden County Celebrates Voting Rights Act of 1965, While Encouraging Voter Education
By Andrew J. Mitchell, Jr.
Scores of residents flocked to a packed tent outside the Gadsden County courthouse in Quincy on Aug. 6 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act signed by former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Poll taxes and literacy tests joined by the remembrances of the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., were all distant memories. Instead, gospel choirs sang, children danced and senior citizens remembered a time when just going to the Supervisor of Elections Office to vote meant taking your own life in your hands.
Civil Rights attorney John Due was joined by his sister-in-law, civil rights activist Priscilla Stephens Kruize, to mark the occasion. It was Kruize who spent 49 days behind bars with her sister Patricia Stephens Due after a sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter. Both sisters were instrumental in leading voter registration drives in the Big Bend area. But today, organizers of the event wanted all to know that there is still a voting fight going on in America.
Gadsden County Commissioner Eric Hinson hosted the event. He believes there is much improvement to be done as far as voting in today’s election, but he is happy about the age diversity that was represented at the celebration.
“The sole purpose is voter education,” Hinson, who serves as vice-chair of the commission, said. “(We should) let folks know about the past but yet we also have a long way to go and keep our eyes on the prize.”
Hinson said he is aware of residents who don’t seize the opportunity to vote even though a lot of Americans died for that right. He believes that, just like in the 1960s, economic status is no reason to miss a chance to make a difference in the voting booth.
Speakers, who varied from political figures to pastors around the community and others, shared similar concerns and actions for the future.
Rev. Charles Morris, pastor of New Bethel African Methodist Church in Quincy, spoke to the community on what needs to happen next.
“Voting registration is what we did in the Rights Act of 1965 and we have found it’s been gutted out all together by the Supreme Court and by some of the decisions that have been made,” Morris said. “So, what we need in our county is voter empowerment and that can only come through voter education.”
The act has been amended five times since 1965’s enactment and Morris believes the people need to take back the power in local elections to greater effect the country as a whole.