This is the ballot we used that day!
We arrived early last Thursday, October 16th and already about 300 people were in line at the polling place. My brother-in-law, who just recently had hip replacement surgery, my sister, and I who will be having ankle replacement surgery went to the assisted voting area for the handicapped. Can you imagine? We were assisted by very able poll workers, like this one.
Here is my sister voting in the car.
Guess who I voted for?
All right, lefty.
WE HAVE COME A LONG WAY, BABY!
The reason I say, "We have come a long way baby" is that sitting there waiting for my ballot to be brought to me, I reflected on the first time I voted back in 1960 in Petersburg, Virginia.
After studying ROTC at Virginia State College (now University) and graduating in 1957,
I served for two years as an officer, mainly in the 101st Airborne Division.
When I returned to Petersburg in 1959,
I had unusual administrative experience for a small town African American guy. I was appointed as part-time Assistant Principal at the newly built, Westview Elementary School. The president of the PTA there that year was the Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker. Rev. Walker, along with some other young ministers in Petersburg started a civil rights organization to make Petersburg better. It was called the Petersburg Improvement Association.
The Petersburg Improvement Association led many sit-ins and other protest activities against racial segregation laws there. Many were arrested. Many lost their jobs. This movement gained the attention of the young, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who visited our city many times and assisted us. He was so impressed with Wyatt Tee Walker, that eventually he took him back to Atlanta as his Chief of Staff.
But as we were studying to register African Americans to vote, Martin Luther King would come with his staff to teach us techniques for getting that job done. MLK would drive in late at night and leave during the night because it was dangerous for him to be seen in that area. We had heard that an assistant principal in an area not far from us had been taken out of his home and lynched. You see, this was before the Civil Rights Act of 1965 that removed the artificial and deliberate obstacles the segregationists devised to keep blacks from exercising voting power.
We had the poll tax, which required paying a fee for the privilege of voting and we had the "literacy" test. That was administered in Petersburg by asking the prospective voter something about government that they expected an educated voter to know.
Also, you need to know that all whites did not support this apartheid system of government. We had someone in the voter registration office, who was white, who told us the question in advance which we would be asked. That question was changed periodically to keep blacks from knowing too much in advance.
We had study sessions at night at the church and some of us were trained to "pass" and some were trained to "fail". The reason for this was that if we all passed it would look suspicious. Since I was the part-time Assistant Principal of the elementary school and an officer in the United States Army Reserve, they believed that I was among those who would not cause so much suspicion if I "passed". So we set about the task of memorizing the answer to the question which we had been presented in "secret".
I'll never forget that day when I was to report to the Petersburg Court House for my "examination".
After waiting a good while, I was ushered into an office and confronted by a surly, burly white man. "What do you want, boy?" "I want to register to vote.", I replied. "I will ask you a question". "Can you recite from memory the Third Article of The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Fa-jin-ja (his pronunciation of Virginia). So, I recited what I had carefully memorized over the previous two weeks.
"ARTICLE III The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia
Division of Powers
Section 1. Departments to be distinct.
The legislative, executive, and judicial departments shall be separate and distinct, so that none exercise the powers properly belonging to the others, nor any person exercise the power of more than one of them at the same time; provided, however, administrative agencies may be created by the General Assembly with such authority and duties as the General Assembly may prescribe. Provisions may be made for judicial review of any finding, order, or judgment of such administrative agencies."
And that is the way it was then. I got my registration card and in 1960, I voted for John F. Kennedy for President of the United States of America!