The writing team that gave us the book White Water about segregation in the Jim Crow era in the South returns with a look at voting rights in that era in this book subtitled: “A Journey to the Ballot Box.”
As the authors contend in an Afterword, voting rights were “the last vestige of resistance” in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans. Thus, “politically sanctioned nullification of voter rights was commonplace in Alabama and many other southern states.” [The authors aver that the worst of tactics to deter “undesirable” voters ended with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Alas, they do not add that on June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in its ruling on the voting rights case Shelby County v. Holder, with the Court removing a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting. Immediately afterward, southern states implemented new restrictive laws that were previously blocked. You can read more about how Shelby County v. Holder has adversely affected voting patterns here.]
But this story at least gives you a view of what black citizens endured before the 1965 federal legislation.
A little boy named Michael, who is narrating, lives and works on a farm with his grandparents.
One morning Granddaddy got all dressed up and took the boy with him for a special occasion: the grandfather intended to vote for the first time.
The grandfather was prevented from voting however when he could not pass a literacy test; the white deputy overseeing the voting tore up the grandfather’s ballot and threw it on the ground.
The boy’s grandfather died before he ever got a chance to vote. But the grandson vowed to vote for him one day. In 1976 he got his chance, and as he put his ballot in the box, he smiled and said to himself:
“Now it’s Granddaddy’s turn.”
The grandfather’s patience, dignity, and optimism are contrasted with the cruelty and contempt of the whites not only in words, but also by virtue of the nuanced watercolors by talented illustrator James E. Ransome. Ransome’s use of warm tones ably convey the love and warmth this family shares, with facial expressions that speak volumes. Ransome is also known for the amount of research he puts into his historical depictions, and once again does not disappoint in his evocation of this time period.
Evaluation: This is a very touching and inspirational story. It was marred for me only by the fact that the “happy ending” of the book no longer fully obtains in real life. As the Brennan Center for Justice reports:
“After the 2010 election, state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.
Overall, 20 states have new restrictions in effect since then — 10 states have more restrictive voter ID laws in place (and six states have strict photo ID requirements), seven have laws making it harder for citizens to register, six cut back on early voting days and hours, and three made it harder to restore voting rights for people with past criminal convictions.
In 2016, 14 states had new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. Those 14 states were: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.”
Published by Candlewick Press, 2015