By constantly invoking the ghost of Jim Crow, they treat black voters as if they were helpless children.
Like many of our racial debates of late, the discussion about voting rights has a certain broken-record aspect to it. Republicans call for voter restrictions in the name of ballot integrity, while Democrats pretend that it’s still 1964.
That was the year before Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which might be the greatest achievement of the civil-rights movement. In 1964 only 6% of blacks in Mississippi were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the region. Two years later, that number had climbed to 60%, the highest in the South. “In every southern state, the gains were striking,” wrote the late political scientist Abigail Thernstrom. “Sometimes good legislation works precisely as initially intended.”
In 1970, there were fewer than 1,500 black elected officials in the U.S. Today there are more than 10,000, and they have included mayors of large cities with significant black populations—Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington—as well as governors, congressmen, senators, a twice-elected black president and the current vice president. Black voter registration in the South, where most blacks live, is higher than in other parts of the country and, in Mississippi and Georgia, black voter turnout has outpaced white turnout.
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