The Meaning of the Vote: A reflection on the 55th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Voting Act - March For Science

The Meaning of the Vote: A reflection on the 55th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Voting Act

The following blog post was written by:

Clayton Carroll II
MFS Social Media Admin

Born in 1852, the son of a freed slave, Edward Alexander Bouchet went on to successfully defend his doctoral dissertation on Measuring Refractive Indices at Yale University. He became the first Black person to earn a PhD at any American University when he earned his in 1876. He would go on to spend his entire post-doctoral life teaching in secondary schools while searching for a professorship. A feat he was never able to achieve on account of his Black skin. I often think of Dr. Bouchet and countless Black Americans, dreams unfulfilled, goals unachieved, confined, held back, interrupted as they were forced to navigate social circumstances they could not control. 

The most basic way any person can express themselves politically, is by voting. Voting is political acknowledgment of the right to shape how policy shapes society. It is, for all intents and purposes, a means of self-expression, a political voice and will. In this way, voting is the social means to self-determination. What must it have been like to live in a society in which he had no say? Today, on the 55th anniversary of the Civil Rights Voting Act, I reflect on Dr. Bouchet and what he could have been, had he and other Black Americans been able to exert political will through voting, without interference.  

What might Black achievement have looked like in a political society shaped by unimpeded Black voters? Vastly different. I have a dream. One where local officials reinforced the right to vote, as enshrined in the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which were all ratified before Bouchet earned his PhD. State officials who carried Black interests to the legislature; Jim Crow never was a thing; literacy tests never were a thing. A president who, whether genuine or not, campaigned in part on strengthening the constitutional rights of this newly emerged political voice. A Supreme Court justice tips the scales in Dred Scott v. Sandford. The son of a freed slave achieves his dream to become a physics professor. 

But we are not confined to dreaming. The Voting Act provided the means to turn these dreams into reality. In the years after it was signed into legislation, Black voter registration nearly doubled. Accordingly, the number of Black congressional members increased exponentially and they oversaw the expansion and equitable distribution of public funds and services and the passage of important civil rights legislation. 

What might this era have looked like without these achievements? I have a nightmare. Kennedy is not elected president. Johnson never assumes the presidency. The Civil Rights Movement goes largely ignored and the Voting Act is never signed. A little Black boy, born August 4th, 1961, is not shaped by a society that tells him he can pursue his educational and political ambition and so he does not and never becomes president. A justice tips the scales in Obergfell v. Hodges. I’m never legally married to my husband.

 Luckily, we aren’t confined to nightmares, either. The Voting Act did indeed shape the lives of millions of Black Americans, including Barack Obama whose presidency went on to define an entire generation and positively impact the lives of millions of Americans in turn. 

Today, whether you’re holding out hope for a better future or living your worst political nightmare, voting is the way forward. It is the vehicle that will carry us from here to there. It is the difference between progression and regression. It is the difference between achieving your dreams or not.

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