Attacking Sunday Voting is Part of a Long Tradition of Controlling Black AmericansRoundup
tags: African American history, voting rights, Voting
Rebecca Brenner Graham is a PhD candidate in history at American University in Washington, DC. Follow
On Wednesday night, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that provides new voting rights protections and new measures to make it easier for Americans to vote. They include automatic registration and same-day registration, establishing standards for maintaining voter registration lists, guaranteeing federal voting rights for citizens with felony convictions who completed terms of incarceration, and extending early voting to all 50 states.
Indeed, the bill would “require states to allow at least two weeks of early voting for federal elections (including weekends) for a period of at least 10 hours per day, including some early morning and evening hours” according to the Brennan Center. This provision is pivotal because it aims to eliminate new racially targeted voting restrictions.
Today’s restrictions are rooted in a long, well-known history of voter suppression that has targeted African Americans. Jim Crow laws in the 19th and 20th centuries prevented emancipated people and descendants of enslaved people from voting. More recent attempts to disenfranchise Black voters have included voter identification laws and the mass closures of polling places in predominantly Black neighborhoods.
But another attempt at making it harder for African Americans to vote has flown under the radar: targeting or eliminating Sunday voting, which is what a bill passed by the Georgia House this week aims to do. Such provisions are a continuation not only of centuries of racially targeted voting restrictions but of legislating behavior on Sundays as a method of controlling African Americans.
In antebellum America, enslaved people often experienced slightly more autonomy on Sundays. They prepared food and clothes for themselves for the week ahead and visited family members miles away. Many attended Sunday worship, while a few even bought and sold goods. Even so, patrollers would police the areas surrounding plantations to maintain enslavers’ control over the movement of enslaved people. If enslaved people lacked written permission to visit loved ones on Sundays — or even sometimes if they had such permission — violence might ensue.
At the same time in the early 19th century, powerful religious movements campaigned to end Sunday commerce and especially Sunday mail delivery. These people were “Sundayists,” who sought to enforce Sunday sacred rest on everyone.
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