The South's Jim Crow Barriers to Voting Rights are Going National

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tags: racism, Jim Crow, Voting Rights Act, voting rights, minstrelsy, Vote Suppression

Jim Crow was never real. He was a work of fiction, a character cobbled together from various Black traits as seen through a white man's gaze. And though his name is forever linked with the racist anti-Black laws of the late 19th and early 20th century American South, Jim Crow was never confined to below the Mason-Dixon Line.

No, when white actor Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a native New Yorker, made his fortune, it was through exposing white audiences nationwide to his combination of Irish music and steps with Blacks' music and a pastiche of their dialect. It feels horrifyingly fitting that almost 200 years later, Jim Crow is on tour once again — and he's playing engagements in almost every state.

Jim Crow laws affected every aspect of Southern Black life from the post-Reconstruction period until the mid-1960s, enshrining a segregated racial caste with Blacks effectively excluded from public life. That weight was enforced especially brutally at the ballot box, where white lawmakers found any number of tricks to keep Blacks from exercising their constitutional right to vote when violence had failed to scare them away. Those indirect measures ranged from poll taxes to keep poor Blacks — and many poor whites — from voting to literacy tests to grandfather clauses preventing citizens from voting if a grandfather had been ineligible.

These laws worked — in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina, only 22.5 percent of the voting-age Black population was registered to vote in 1934. All of them, and Virginia, were subject at least in part to the formula passed in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prevented changes in election laws without federal approval.

Now, in the 1960 census, there were about 5.7 million nonwhite citizens in the states and counties covered under the Voting Rights Act. That's 5.7 million Americans who Congress determined needed protection from their states' overly restrictive laws. With new amendments to the law and changes in the formula, Alaska, Arizona and Texas — as well as counties in California, Florida, New York and South Dakota and two townships in Michigan — also had to petition the feds to change their voting laws as of 2013.

But that year, the Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula, saying that it was unconstitutional as it existed at the time and that Congress needed to change it. This being Congress, of course no fix has passed since then, thanks to Republican obstruction.

The change after the Supreme Court decision was almost immediate. By the very next year, the Brennan Center for Justice counted, nine of the 15 states previously covered under the formula had passed laws to restrict access to the ballot. These changes, pushed through GOP-dominated legislatures, have only gotten worse under the guise of preventing "voter fraud."

President Donald Trump hammered that narrative on his way to losing the 2020 presidential election. And Republicans around the country have picked up the ball and run with it — they've introduced bills that would restrict voting access in 43 states, according to a Washington Post tally.

Read entire article at MSNBC