Jim Crow laws followed the Civil War as the South — and many northern states as well — resisted the granted of full civil equality to the newly freed slave population.
It took a century and massive public agitation for the courts to reverse the legislation.
But the Republican Party, once the champion of equality, has assumed the role one played by the Democrats, actively working to enact a legislative platform designed specifically to repress the rights of African Americans, immigrants of color, and the poor.
The war on equality takes several fronts, ranging from the overt to the subtle. Consider criminal courts, where defendants of color are sentenced more harshly than, well, pale people. And, indeed, behaviors which are necessities or simple refuges for the poor are those most likely to be criminalized, including loitering and public intoxication, both consequences of homelessness.
The latest assault targets voting, that most fundamental of civil rights. What follows is a compendium of accounts indicative of the nature of the beast.
A rally against Jim Crow’s return
Where better to begin than with a statement of what makes the Republicans so nervous.
From Yolanda Putman of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:
Stricter voter identification laws threaten to take away rights that past generations fought for, pastors told about 500 people Saturday at a march and rally to push voter registration and participation.
Black and poor people are in crisis and must use their voting rights for change – to improve education, stop violence and bring equality to all people, said the Rev. Kenneth Love, executive director of the Hamilton County Democratic Party.
“We are in emergency mode. The alarm is sounding, and it’s time for us to respond,” Love said at the rally at Greater Tucker Baptist Church.
The group at the church included young and old, blacks and whites.
“It goes beyond race,” said the Rev. Kenneth Ware, pastor of New Monumental Baptist Church. “This includes all people who have been separated from the liberties granted in this country. It’s all of those who have been left out.”
About two dozen ministers and the NAACP organized the event, called the Chattanooga Voter Empowerment Movement. Other marches and voting rallies will be scheduled throughout the year leading up to the November presidential election.
And how have the Republicans responded?
From Sarah Brumfield of the Associated Press:
A political aide to Maryland’s former Republican governor has been sentenced to 30 days of home detention Thursday for an Election Day robocall conspiracy that prosecutors cast as an effort to keep black voters away from the polls.
Prosecutors said the automated calls went out to 110,000 people in areas with high percentages of black voters, who tend to vote reliably Democratic. The calls implied that voters did not need to head to the polls because Democrat Martin O’Malley had already defeated Republican Robert Ehrlich.
Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill called the scheme an offense that strikes at the heart of the nation’s most important values. The judge also gave Paul Schurick a one-year suspended jail sentence and ordered him to serve 500 hours of community service in Prince George’s County and Baltimore city, where the calls were directed, over four years of his probation.
“This needs to send a message to anyone who would interfere with anyone’s opportunity to vote that it’s absolutely unacceptable,” Fletcher-Hill told Schurick.
The battle shapes up in Virginia
The primary forum for the Republican embrace of Jim Crow is legislative, and one venue is the Virginia statehouse.
From Bob Lewis of the Associated Press:
A bitter partisan dispute over Republican bills that place new burdens on voting grew more passionate Tuesday as black leaders compared the measures to Jim Crow-era voter suppression and accused the GOP of intending to “lynch democracy.”
Democrats and minorities used a rally on the Capitol lawn and debate on the House Floor to criticize the measures favored by the Legislature’s all-white GOP majority that would put more restrictions on voter registration efforts and require voters to take photo identification to the polls.
Republicans strongly disputed the notion that the bills are meant to suppress voting, saying that they are intended to cut down on fraud in a presidential election year with Virginia targeted as a battleground by both parties.
The chairwoman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus accused the GOP of voter suppression.
“We have before us in the General Assembly session an array of voter-suppression bills designed to render you voiceless in 2012, and it’s no coincidence that this is happening in 2012,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton.
Similar laws in South Carolina
The first shots of the Civil War were fired in the Palmetto State, so it’s no surprise that the Republican effort to disenfranchise the descendants of slaves is happening there as well.
From Corey Hutchins of the Columbia, South Carolina, Free Times:
A coalition of civil and voting rights groups angrily blasted a proposed law they accuse Republicans of fast tracking in the House to limit voter participation.
If passed, the law would mandate third-party groups that register voters — the Boy Scouts, the League of Women Voters, churches — to file with the state and incur penalties for each registration form not delivered within five days. Fines could reach $1,000.
Republicans say regulating voter drives ensures accountability in the registration process.
But Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP, called it “another sick piece of legislation to deny people their rights,” during a Feb. 8 State House news conference.
According to U.S. census data, black voters in South Carolina were roughly four times more likely to sign up to vote in 2010 via third-party voter registration drives than whites.
The Republican resurrection of racism
The effort isn’t restricted to the South. Republicans in most states with sizeable minority populations have waged similar campaigns often successfully.
While the ostensible reason is the prevention of voter fraud, that’s absurd on its face, given that the most pervasive voter fraud of modern time took place in Florida, and gave the White House to George W. Bush. In that election, Republicans fought tooth and nail to prevent a more thorough scrutiny of the vote.
No, the real reason is based on race and class.
The Republicans, save for an honest few, will never admit the racism behind their efforts. If nothing else, the tenor of the times make overt expression of racial bigotry taboo. But it’s there, and it’s real.
And as the economy worsens, as it must, we’ll see a lot more of it.