Taking a look back at the past - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Posted by: Alisa Nave, 11/1/04, 10:56pm

Taking a look back at the past

By: Donna Davis

It's the picture of the month in November's Ebony magazine. Blacks in Somerville in the 1960s defying authorities with guns in order to cast their vote. While Blacks across the nation risked and sometimes lost their lives just to be heard. In the Mid South, local black leaders realized the need to organize the troops and get them to the polls. "You could run, but you couldn't hide. You could say, I voted. But Lessie was down here at the polling place. You hadn't voted,” said former vote organizer Judge H.T. Lockard. So local black civic groups wrote letters. They knocked on doors and if you hadn't voted by early afternoon; they'd come get you and take you to the polls. But the system was far from perfect. Voters were told who to choose. In many cases black voters were intimidated on the job; or their votes were bought for next to nothing. "Crump came out of Mississippi , and he made it up to Mayor of Memphis and then he'd just buy your vote. Buy black folks vote, buy em watermelon. So it was pretty hard. You couldn't just do as you pleased. Do as you wanted,” said Matthew Davis Junior with the NAACP. It was an era where Blacks could not attend Memphis State University . Blacks could only go to the zoo or fairgrounds one day a week. Black children couldn't ride the school bus. These were the issues that galvanized local leaders to register people to vote. "Those just some of the things that make tears come in your eyes, when you try to raise your children up. And you see other children riding the bus going to school, and yet we had to walk for miles and miles to get to our school." The voter registration drives took off. And so did a people's pride in knowing that their voice, even in an imperfect world, was finally being heard. "You really feel like you're a man when you had an opportunity to carry a voter registration card in your billfold, or vote for who you wanted to be your mayor, who you wanted to be your president, your governor." Decades after he started stressing the importance of exercising the right to vote, Matthew Davis is still working with the NAACP to get out the vote for tomorrow's election. If you have a suggestion for Donna Davis reports; email us at donna-reports-at-wmctv.com.

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