Jim Crow Guide: The Way it Was
by Stetson Kennedy 1959
Chapter X - Who May Vote Where
As a native-born or naturalized American citizen, you may think you are free to vote.
Not so, however, if you are a Negro American and live in the South.
So far as black folk are concerned, there has not been a free election held in that region since Federal troops were withdrawn from it after the election of 1876.
To be sure, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution's Bill of Rights, adopted in 1870, asserts "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude".
But if you wrap yourself in that and start to the polls down in Dixieland, you might find it a mighty poor shield if your color isn't right (white).
For the fact is that this particular provision of the Bill of Rights was only good for one more-or-less-free national election (that of 1872), and ever since then has been more or less a dead letter in the states where the majority of America's Negro citizens live.
This autonomy enjoyed by the regime of white supremacy which holds sway over the Southern states has been made possible partly by the apathy of the Federal Government and partly because the Constitution allows each state to fix the qualifications of voters within it. Southern officialdom has taken great pains to enact non-discriminatory requirements, which can be administered in a discriminatory manner.
Before looking into the prevailing situation, it might be well to glance briefly back into history, to the brief period after the Civil War when free elections were first established and then subverted.
Our Big Lie
That decade of so-called "Reconstruction" is undoubtedly the "best lied-about" period in American history. Violence was so rife at the polls in the election of 1876 that the outcome, both in the Presidential and gubernatorial contests, was not in doubt. Behind dosed doors, the notorious "Deal Of '76" was made, whereby the Southern political powers conceded the Presidential election to the Republican Presidential candidate, Hayes, in return for which the North conceded Southern governorships to the anti-Negro candidates of the Democratic Party, and, moreover, agreed to withdraw Federal troops from the region. In such manner a large measure of ideological victory was wrested by the Southern racists from the military defeat they had suffered from the armies of Lincoln.
Having thus betrayed the war aims for which the nation had bled so much, it was deemed necessary to salve the nation's conscience by concocting Our Big Lie as to what had taken place. First given full-length formulation in the book, The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon, it subsequently found expression in the film, Birth of a Nation, and an entire literature, including such popular contemporary novels as Gone with the Wind.
Consequently, wherever you look today, North or South, in periodicals, history books, and official manuals, you will find the Big Lie presented as absolute truth, actually believed by writer and reader alike. The phraseology varies but little. Life magazine (1957) puts it thus:
"In a relative instant the Negroes were transformed [by Emancipation] from a frightened confused rabble into a great force to be reckoned with. But no quick change could give them education or organization, and they fell prey to two varieties of troublemaker: carpetbaggers and scalawags. The former were Northerners who hastened the South to seek their fortunes in chaos, presumably carrying their possessions in satchels made of rug fabric. Scalawags were renegade Southerners of the same opportunistic breed. Between them they soon organized the
Negroes to serve their own purposes. Against this background arose the Ku Klux Klan, composed of whites that tried, by threats and beatings, to drive the Negroes, carpetbaggers, and scalawags from power. Many of the Klan's early leaders were men of dignity, ex-Confederate officers."
The U.S. Government, party to the original Deal of '76, is also an accessory after the fact in helping to disseminate the Big Lie. Here is how the State Department's U.S. Information Service puts it in its bulletin, The American Negroes:
"Devoid-understandably-of all political experience, the Negroes were easily exploited by the politicians and adventurers of the North (the famous Carpetbaggers) who built fortunes on the ruins of the South . . . It was in this epoch that the over-famous Ku Klux Klan, with its ceremonies calculated to provoke terror, with its imagery of power, arose. An organization of self-protection created by the whites of the South, the KKK was originally as much against the Northern 'profiteers' as against the excesses of the freed Negroes." But do not be misled just because contemporary politicos have affixed the Great Seal of the United States of America to this betrayal of all those who fought under Lincoln in order that the nation might have a "new birth of freedom".
It has been said that all societies thus far have had their "necessary fictions". Certain it is that this fiction, seeking to hide the fact that the Negro was consigned to second-class citizenship by the Deal of 1876, has been indispensable to the reign of white supremacy that has held sway over the South ever since.
For us, the living, the truth about the Reconstruction period is hard to find, having been virtually buried alive. There does exist, however, in the Library of Congress and in the Schomburg Collection of the New York Public Library, two remaining sets of thirteen volumes of testimony taken during the Reconstruction period by a "Joint Congressional Committee on the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States". Going into the South when the Klan terror was at its height, the Committee took testimony from victims of the terror who were still able to speak-Negroes, and the so-called Scalawags and Carpetbaggers. The picture which emerges is one of heroic plain people, white and Negro, joined in the task of building a true democracy in the South to replace the oppressive old order. Duly elected white and Negro office-holders worked side by side in the state legislatures and municipal councils, and Negroes elected to the U.S. Congress and Senate in Washington served ably and well. The governments created by those poor folks' democracy were, if anything, more honest, conscientious and progressive than either their predecessors or successors. Among other things, they laid the foundations for public education in the South.
The Ku Klux Klan was not, as the apologia would have it, a necessary protection against excesses, but a deliberately conceived terrorist plot, organized and officered by the old landed gentry, to overthrow the popular democracy, restore plutocracy, and reduce the
Negro once more to a condition of helpless servitude. All this, thanks to national lassitude, it accomplished. (Had it failed, this book would never have had to be written...)
And so, with the overthrow of Reconstruction democracy, the cornerstone of th
e political tyranny in the Southern states became the dictate: "Voting is white folk's business!"
Populism into Poll Tax
When at the turn of the century under the liberalizing impetus of the Populist movement Negroes began to reappear at the polls, the states in the segregated territory devoted two decades-from 18go to 1910 0 to building constitutional and statutory barriers which again rendered Negro Americans politically impotent. In Louisiana, for example, there were 130,334 Negro voters in 1896, but only 1,342, by 1904.
Typical of the techniques employed was the following "Call to Arms" issued on election eve in North Carolina:
"You are Anglo-Saxons. You are armed and prepared and you win do your duty. Go to the polls tomorrow and if you find the Negro voting tell him to leave the polls and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns."
Requirement of payment of an annual poll tax as a prerequisite to voting was another means of disfranchisement. White people were somehow led to believe that the tax would operate against Negroes, but not against them, while in reality the tax disfranchised even more whites than Negroes.
The late Senator Carter Glass, as a delegate to the Virginia constitutional convention, which adopted the poll tax, said frankly, "We came here to make distinctions. We expect to make distinctions. We will make distinctions."
Today you must still pay a poll tax in order to vote if you are a resident of Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, or Virginia. In most of these states the tax ranges from $1.00 to $2.00, but in three states it is cumulative, the maximum in Virginia being $5.08, Mississippi $6.00, and Alabama $30.00.
The Gallup Poll has estimated that "the total number of persons not voting in II Southern states because of the poll tax and other local reasons" in 1948 was 7,700,000; and the situation has not changed much since
One noteworthy effect of the poll tax has been the control over Congress it has given to Representatives and Senators from the Southern states. The tax has worked wonders in cutting down the electorate; in one poll-tax state only 13 per cent of the potential voters vote. With so few constituents, the office-holders, with their political machines, are able to buy blocs of votes by paying people's poll taxes. Returned to office term after term, through seniority Southerners have garnered three times their proportionate share of dominant positions on House committees and twice their share on Senate committees. In this way they have practically dictated America's foreign and domestic policies for many decades.
Repeal of the poll tax has long been a plank in both the Democratic and Republican platforms, but the anti-poll-tax bills introduced in every session of Congress have always been bottled up by "gentlemen's agreements" between Southern Democrats and certain Northern Republicans.
Nor does there seem to be much hope that the remaining poll tax states can be persuaded to abolish the tax themselves any time soon.
When the liberal Governor Ellis Arnall abolished Georgia's tax in 1947, gubernatorial candidate Eugene Talmadge reconciled himself by declaring: "I done decided the best way to keep the niggers from voting is to let all the white folks vote, and then pass the word around that Mister Nigger is not wanted at the polls."
Burdensome though the poll tax undoubtedly is, if You are a Negro living in segregated territory you will find that the tax is the least of the obstacles between you and the ballot box.
just as it did during the overthrow of Reconstruction, the price-tag on the ballot in many areas still reads, "One vote, one life".
Of course you will not necessarily lose your life for voting, but thousands of Negroes have died in the struggle for the abolition of political slavery. At present only a token few are actually killed each election year, but the number is increasing. Not since the anti-Reconstruction terror has the road to the polls been so beset with mortal peril.
Death is just one of the possible penalties you might incur. You may simply be beaten, knifed, or otherwise damaged physically. Then, again, you may be deprived of your livelihood instead of your life. You may be:
Fired from your job.
Evicted from your farm.
Driven from your home.
Public officials and such quasi-official organizations as the White Citizens' Councils and the Ku Klux Klan constantly bring the notion that "voting is white folk's business" to public attention.
In a treatise, Negro Suffrage-Its False Theory, the Imperial Wizard of the KKK has attacked the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution as a "war spite measure " , and predicted that it cannot "much longer endure". After describing the U.S.A. as a "white man's country", the Wizard calls for "dear and frank recognition that racial discrimination is an American national policy". Elsewhere, an authoritative Klan journal declares: "It is better for the negro to be a political eunuch in the house of friends, than a voter rampant in the halls of enemies."
The halls of Congress have for generations resounded with these same sentiments.
"I believe in white supremacy, and as long as I am in the Senate I expect to fight for white supremacy," Senator Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana oft declaimed.
When in 1944 the Supreme Court was prevailed upon to rule against the white primary elections which long constituted the real elections in the one-party (Democratic) South, Senator Burnet R. Maybank of South Carolina said: "Regardless of the Supreme Court decision and any laws that may be passed by Congress, we in South Carolina are going to do whatever we can to protect our white primaries."
John D. Long, a legislator from the same state, was more explicit. "As for the Negro voting in my primary," he said, "we'll fight him at the precinct meeting, we'll fight him at the county convention, we'll fight him at the enrollment books, and, by God, well fight him at the polls if I have to bite the dust as did my ancestors!"
"Political equality is a question it were as well for the Negro race to forget in the South, said the Waterboro, South Carolina, Press and Standard.
"Our Southern duty is to get around the decision in more ways than one," added the widely syndicated Southern columnist, John Temple Graves.
In the face of physical, economic, and psychological warfare, the South's Negroes have intensified their struggle to get at the ballot boxes. still, by 1958, when a Conference on Voting Restrictions in Southern States was held in Washington, D.C., not more than one fourth of the South's 6,000,000 Negroes of voting age were registered to vote. This Conference, sponsored by the Southern Conference Educational Fund (a private group uniting Southern whites and Negroes against discrimination), presented the Department of justice and Civil Rights Commission with state-by-state reports on violations of the Negro's right to vote. Here are just a few of the highlights the Conference threw upon democracy's low points down South:
Mississippi: Negroes free to vote in only six of the state's 82 counties.
Alabama: Negroes constitute 30 per cent of the population, 6 per cent of the voters.
Georgia: 160,000 of the state's 650,000 potential Negro voters are registered to vote.
Virginia: 60,000 of the state's 750,000 Negroes are registered to vote.
Florida: 148,000 of the state's 370,000 potential Negro voters arc registered.
Louisiana: Negroes constitute 30 per cent of the population, 16 per cent of the voters.
If you live in a city your chances of voting arc better than if you live in a small town or in the country. But even if you happen to be one of the lucky ones, you can't expect to have much voice, if any, in the conduct of your city's public affairs. The white officeholders have gerrymandered most municipalities in the segregated territory so that the Negro neighborhood is carved up like the center of a pie, thus assuring white majorities in each ward slice.
Something new in gerrymandering has been conceived by the officials of Altamonte Springs, Florida. Alarmed by increased Negro voting which had reduced the white majority to eight votes, they proceeded in 1952 to vote the Negro section out of town.
Atlanta in the same year took a slightly different course. Instead of voting Negroes out of town, it voted more whites in by incorporating outlying districts into a "Greater Atlanta".
In 1957 the voters of Alabama (most of whom are white) in a special referendum authorized the state legislature to liquidate Macon County as a political entity by carving it up and apportioning the pieces to adjoining counties. The reason: a majority of the citizens of Macon County are Negroes.
The same year, the Alabama legislature liquidated the town of Tuskegee as a municipality, simply because 70 per cent of its residents happen to be Negroes. In protest against being thus robbed of the right to self-government, Tuskegee's 4,6000 Negroes launched a boycott of white-owned stores.
How Many Windows in the White House?
Your first problem if you aspire to vote but your color isn't white and you live in the South, is how to get your name on the registration books as qualified to vote and to keep it there.
Originally registration was designed merely as a means of preventing unscrupulous persons from casting more than one ballot, but Negro Emancipation prompted Southern officials to seize upon registration requirements, as a means of barring Negroes from the polls.
To begin with, many Southern states open their books for new registrants for a very limited time only - generally at a time far removed from an election, so that public interest would be at a low ebb. Indeed, the opening of the books is often something of a state secret, as there is no desire on the part of the incumbents to increase the number *of white voters either. Even if you manage to find out about the opening of the books, you may also find-as reported by the Birmingham World-that the registrar has chosen the registration period in which to go fishing.
Or you may discover that the registrar is a white woman who operates in the parlor of her home-where a Negro dare not intrude. The woman may even be fortified by a ferocious dog, specially trained to go after dark meat. Complaints as to this have been most common in Virginia and North Carolina.
In Florida in 1958 the registrar was telling Negro applicants: "Go ahead and register if you can take what comes afterward!" As a result of this sort of thing, in five north Florida counties where there were 16,533 potential Negro voters, only 110 had dared to put their names down.
If you do go to your county courthouse to register, in segregated territory you will doubtless find two lines-one for whites, one for Negroes. If you are a Negro, it might be well to take along a box lunch of some sort, as it is not unheard of for Negro applicants to be kept standing in line for one or more days.
In 1950 Professor Alvin Jones of New Orleans, Louisiana, a militant champion of civil rights for Negroes was savagely clubbed in the sheriff's office at Opeluses for leading a group of Negro citizens to register to vote. Professor Jones filed a complaint with the F.B.I., but was told that it "couldn't handle" the case. He died a few months later from a blood clot on the brain, a result of the injuries he had suffered.
When your turn does come to register, the registrar win probably insist that you perform to the letter every literacy and educational test prescribed by law. Of course, if your skin were white this would likely be accepted as prima facie evidence of literacy and educational fitness.
Your session with the registrar may be something of an ordeal. Most of the segregated states now empower their registrars to require applicants to read or write, and understand and explain the Constitution. Alternatively in some states the registrar may simply qualify certain applicants as being "of good character and understanding the duties of citizenship". This latter criterion, however, you win generally find reserved for white folks.
This machinery thus enables the registrar to refuse to register you if you are a Negro and he so chooses, even though you may possess one or more college degrees; and at the same time to qualify even the most illiterate whites.
Of course, you are free to appeal against a registrar's decision in the courts, but by the time a ruling can be had; the election will undoubtedly be over.
It is altogether impossible to anticipate what questions a registrar may ask you, except in the State of Georgia, where you are required by law to answer correctly at least 10 from a list Of 30 questions adopted by the legislature (as originally drawn, this law would have required 30 correct replies, but it was modified when newsmen discovered that the legislators themselves did not know all the answers).
Elsewhere, the registrar is free to extract his questions from thin air. For instance, according to Collier's magazine, Florida registrars in a recent election were asking Negro applicants, "How many windows in the White House?".
The current trend is for the states to vest more and more discretionary power in the registrars so that the actual discrimination can be left to them, without appearing in statutory form.
Alabama pioneered in this field with the Boswell Amendment to her state constitution in 1946; when the Supreme Court voided the measure the state promptly submitted a virtually identical measure, "the little Boswell Amendment", for referendum in 1952.
The same technique has been clearly enunciated in Georgia by the Talmadge legislative leader, Roy Harris, who said that the state would change its election law "by a comma or two" after each adverse court ruling, and "continue to hold Democratic primaries as white as the palm of your hand".
Herman Talmadge, while Governor (he is now Senator) was only a little less optimistic. "If we can't have all-white primaries in Georgia we want them as white as we can get them," he said.
Two states-Louisiana and Alabama-require applicants for registration to be accompanied by "vouchers"-a registered voter to vouch for your integrity, etc. In some Alabama counties you will find that the registrars insist that Negroes find white vouchers. Others who do accept Negroes as vouchers for Negroes generally limit the number an individual Negro may vouch for from two to four registrants per month.
Don't think, if you put on the uniform of the United States in time of war to defend democracy, that this will in any wise improve your chances of voting in the South when the war is over if your skin color isn't white. On the contrary, special efforts have been made to deter Negro war veterans from voting. For instance, when Negro vets. marched to the courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama, to register, a local paper called for the KKK to "Cope with the problem", and fiery crosses promptly flared from mountain-tops overlooking the city.
If in spite of adverse color you do finally succeed in registering, you will probably be asked to state your party affiliation. As has already been pointed out, the Democratic Party primary provides the actual contest for public office in most of the South. In the hope of deterring Negroes from registering as Democrats, the party in South Carolina made a "loyalty oath" of allegiance to white supremacy and racial segregation a requisite for participation in the primary.
When Federal courts finally ruled out such mandatory oaths, Florida in 1952 led a move to incorporate the same sentiments in party platforms. If you live in Alabama and for any reason want to vote Democratic you will have to do so on a ballot bearing the emblem of a crowing rooster and the slogan "White Supremacy-for the Right!"
"Bad Characters" Get Purged
Should you succeed in getting your name on the fist of qualified voters, your troubles may have only begun.
For one thing, your name may be purged from the list before you get a chance to vote. Georgia has led the field in conducting mass purges of Negro registrants, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People putting the total number purged in a recent election year at 20,000. In some counties the vast majority of Negro registrants were stricken from the lists. Appeals to the U.S. Department of Justice were in vain.
The purge procedure as evolved by Georgia is simplicity itself. You receive a legal summons to appear before the county board of registrars at a specified time (invariably during working hours) to "show cause" why your name should not be dropped because of "bad character, criminal record", etc. If you fail to appear, your name is automatically stricken; if you do appear, it is usually stricken just the same.
Any white person, it would appear, can challenge any number of Negroes on all sorts of grounds. For instance, G. R. Fossett, who purged 18o Negroes from the voting list of Spaulding County, Georgia, admitted that he did so solely on the basis of their handwriting.
Herman Talmadge, while Governor of Georgia, prevailed upon his legislators in 1949 to purge the state's entire voting list containing 1,2000,000 names, and to start all over again with handpicked registrars and tightened requirements. The Speaker of the Georgia legislature Fred Hand, told newsmen that this master-purge would keep 80 per cent of Georgia's Negroes from the polls. After one year, less than 15 per cent of the original total (white and Negro) had reregistered.
Florida followed Georgia's example in 1950, but did not go so far as to wipe out the existing lists. Instead, if you are a resident of that state, you are supposed to be sent a postcard which you must sign and return if your name is not to be stricken. Failure to receive such a card (a likely prospect if you are a Negro) is no excuse.
In addition to Georgia and Florida, there are five other states in which you must re-register periodically in order to vote.
When in 1958 H. D. Darby, Negro, filed suit against officials of Jackson, Mississippi, for depriving him of the right to register to vote, the N.A.A.C.P. commented: "Darby is also one of the 1,300 Mississippi Negroes whose names were stricken from the voters lists without reason just before the 1956 election."
One Vote, One Life
If you are a Negro and your name is on a voters' fist somewhere in segregated territory, as Election Day draws nigh you may decide that those whose names are merely purged are the lucky ones.
While the hand of every white man may not be turned against you, you may get the impression that it is. Candidates, officeholders, law enforcement officers, and Klansmen may severally or collectively resort to intimidation and violence to dissuade you from actually going to the polls.
You may recall that the late Senator Theodore Bilbo, in a statewide election-eve broadcast from Jackson on June 23, 1945, urged "every red-blooded Mississippian to use every means at their command" to keep Negroes from the polls. Or, if you were living in Georgia that year you may have heard gubernatorial candidate Eugene Talmadge in a statewide broadcast on July II predict,
"Wise Negroes will stay away from white folks' ballot boxes." Charging that U.S. District Attorneys who had issued statements upholding the right of Negroes to vote were "intimidat- white people", Talmadge went on to say: "Maybe it would not be inappropriate to warn some of those fellows to be careful. Neither the U.S. Attorneys or Jimmy Carmichael (his opponent) will have a corporal's guard to back them up. We are the true friends of the Negroes, always have been, and always will be, so long as they stay in the definite place we have provided for them."
In the light of such public utterances, you will not be surprised to learn that when Imperial Wizard Sam Roper of the K.K.K. asked Talmadge how Negroes could be kept from voting, Ole Gene silently scrawled on a scrap of paper the one word, "Pistols".
If you have been living anywhere in segregated territory you will be familiar with the K.K.K.'s masked election-eve spectacles, featuring cross-burnings on the court-house lawn. Sometimes there are innovations, as at Miami, Florida, where the Klansmen strung up effigies bearing placards, "This Nigger Voted", and distributed "callin cards" reading:
Respectable Negro Citizens Not Voting Tomorrow;
Niggers Stay Away from the Polls!
Or the K.K.K. may tack notices to your church door reading, "The first nigger who votes will be a dead nigger”, as it did at Fitzgerald, Georgia.
Or the day before election you may receive through the U.S. mails a note on a scorched bit of paper reading, "U better stay home to- as some folks did at Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Or Klansmen in airplanes may fly over your home dropping warnings to stay away from the polls, as they did at Smithfield, Virginia Columbus, Georgia, and elsewhere.
Or you may awaken on Election Day to find a miniature coffin on your doorstep, as people did at Statesboro, Georgia.
If, despite such as this, you persist in going to the Polls, be careful not to take with you any sort of memorandum-even one you prepared yourself-because election officials are in the habit of arresting Negroes early in the day on charges of carrying "dummy ballots' , so that the publicity in the afternoon papers will deter other Negroes papers from voting.
Upon arriving at the polling place, you may find whites there brandishing firearms at would-be Negro voters, as a state Senator with a shotgun did in a recent election at Manchester, Georgia.
Or you may not be attacked until you emerge from the polling booth, as was the Rev. Archie Ware, 66, at Calhoun Falls, South Carolina. The Rev. Ware was stabbed several times while police looked on, and though he complained to the U.S. Attorney-General, no action was taken.
Or you may not be attacked until somewhat later, as was Isaiah Nixon of Montgomery County, Georgia. Nixon was advised by election officials that while he bad a legal right to vote he had better not exercise it. Nixon voted, anyway, and that right the election officials shot him to death in his home in the presence of his wife and children. No one was convicted.
Of course you might not be killed until several weeks after the election, as was Robert Mallard, at Lyons, Georgia. Mallard was ambushed and shot to death by a band of masked Klansmen while driving his wife and daughter home from church. No one was arrested, except Mrs. Mallard. Smoke-filled Rooms
It has been said that most of the public affairs of the American republic (among others) are settled not in legislative halls in which the people have some voice, but rather in small smoke-filled rooms where special interests have their way.
Be that as it may, certain it is that the small smoke-filled room plays a far more important role in determining the policies of the two dominant political parties than do party conventions or primaries. Though the U.S.A. is not supposed to be a one-party state, in reality the Democratic and Republican Parties have long exercised a bipartisan monopoly over the political life of the nation, their domestic and foreign policies generally differing only as to emphasis, and this more with a view to partisan advantage than to national welfare.
In any case, if you are an ordinary person you will encounter extreme difficulty in penetrating the smoke-filled rooms where the high command of these parties hold sway; and if your color isn't right and you live in the South you will encounter extraordinary difficulty in entering the door.
You may of course choose freely which party door you will try to enter. In more than half of the Southern states where the Democratic Party is all-powerful, no Negroes at all hold party posts, no matter how petty. Even among Republican ranks in these states it is common for a lily-white faction to organize, get on the ballot, and vie with the "regular" Republican slate for seats at the Party's national nominating convention.
And so the choice confronting the nonwhite Southerner is a difficult one. On the one hand, the
Democratic Party more or less requires it supporters to endorse white supremacy; and on the other, as has been said with reason, "The Republican Party does not discriminate; it simply doesn't care about people".
Before you start getting ideas about starting a people's party, or something of that sort you ought to acquaint yourself with the difficulties involved.
Many states have insured perpetuation of the status quo by enacting legal requirements that, in order to get its candidates' names on the official ballot, a party must have received a substantial vote in the previous election. It doesn't take long to figure out how long it would take a new party to get on the ballot at that rate.
Other states, more liberal, permit new parties to get on the ballot if they can round up a well-nigh impossible number of signatures to a petition.
The problems of breaking the bipartisan monopoly are not only mechanical. When South Carolina Negroes felt obliged to launch a new party, the Progressive Democrats, they were subjected to all manner of persecution, and voters asking for Progressive Democratic ballot forms were handed Democratic Party ballots instead.
To be a Negro and have a voice in party affairs is one problem; a far graver one is how to be a Negro and a candidate for public office in the South. only a handful have attempted it in the twentieth century, and not all of them have survived the experience.
G. L. C. Glymph, a Negro grocer of Gaffney, South Carolina, tried for the city council in 1952. Soon he was in receipt of a letter from the Ku Klux Klan, as follows: "It is not customary, as you know, for the colored race of South Carolina to hold public office. Now is the time you should realize your defeat and let withdrawal be your protection for now and hereafter." He withdrew.
This brings us to one sphere in which equality has long since been established down South: any white candidate who stands up for Negro rights is as apt to be knocked down as a Negro candidate. Those Southern whites who, during the Reconstruction and Populist periods, dared uphold certain basic rights for Negroes often paid with their lives.
It was not until the very middle of the twentieth century that the banner of "total equality" was raised by a candidate for public office in the South for the first time. That was done by Stetson Kennedy, white, who announced himself as a "color-blind" candidate for the U.S. Senate from Florida in the election of 1950. A delegation of Klansmen attended his meetings, and the Grand Dragon passed the word around that Kennedy's "head would be blown off " if he continued to speak. The Klan did set fire to Kennedy's property, and on election day he was arrested and threatened with lynching.
You can get yourself killed simply by endorsing such a candidate. Harry Moore, President of the Progressive Voters' League of Florida (a Negro organization), did endorse Kennedy's candidacy, and subsequently, he and his wife were dynamited to death as they slept in their home at Mims.
If you're lucky, you might escape with nothing more serious than an economic lynching. This happened to a Negro preacher-farmer in Virginia in 1958 when he announced his candidacy for the County Board of Supervisors. On the following day his creditors started foreclosure proceedings after demanding immediate payment in full of an 8,000-dollar mortgage on his farm and home. Only by withdrawing from the political contest was be able to save them.
Most of the few nonwhite candidates to campaign for public office in the South in modern times have done so as 'Independents", with- out endorsement by any existing party organization, this being possible in some contests. Some states also permit candidates to campaign for write-in votes, even though heir names do not appear on the printed ballot. Your chances of getting into public office by this route still depend upon your having a white skin and white prejudices, however, since the vote-counters are all white. Write-in votes cast for nonwhites, or for white persons without race prejudice, get thrown out for alleged "misspelling". All but a handful of the votes cast for Stetson Kennedy, for example, were thrown out.
On the other hand, champions of white supremacy have found write-in campaigns an effective means of getting into office. Strom Thurmond got himself elected to the U.S. Senate from South Carolina by this means, defeating the somewhat less racist Democratic Party nominee. Inspired no doubt by Thurmond's example, in 1958 James "Catfish" Cole, Wizard of the K.K.K., announced his write-in candidacy for the governorship of South Carolina on a platform of "Negro schools for Negroes, and white schools for whites".
That will give you an idea what is meant when you hear folks speak of "white man's government" as well as "white man's country".
To sum up, it continues rather difficult for a black man to be a political man down South.
If, like one out of three Southerners, you are a Negro Southerner, you will find yourself without representation as such in either municipal district, state, or national elective bodies of government.
Don't think that by establishing residence in one of the 150 Or more Southern counties where Negroes are still in the majority you can find more self-government; the more Negroes there are in any given political entity down South, the less the political expression permitted them.
If you happened to be visiting in Great Britain while the U.S. State Department had on display there its exhibit "Souvenirs of American Elections", complete with facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, you shouldn't think you could go back to the American South in this century and raise the standard of the American Revolution, "No Taxation without Representation!", with impunity. Nor would the latter-day Tories of the American South be likely to tolerate any refusal on the part of Negro Southerners to pay taxes on this basis.
No doubt about it-much progress has been made, by reaction. whereas in the early I 1870's Southern Negroes played a role in Southern legislatures commensurate with their proportion in the population, and sent seven Negro Congressmen and one Negro Senator to Washington, today no Negro sits in a Southern legislature and no Southern Negro sits in either house of Congress. The last time a Southern Negro was elected to Congress was in 1899.
Act of 1957
Don't let the highly advertised Civil Rights Act Of 1957 lull You into a false sense of security. According to the publicity, this law-the first civil rights measure to be adopted by Congress in 82 years-is supposed to strengthen the arm of the U.S. Government in protecting the right to vote. Actually, in its amended form as finally adopted, the law represents one step forward and two steps backward, with the result that Negroes may now be disfranchised with even more impunity than before.
Originally, as passed by the House, the law had some teeth, but these were pulled by the Senate. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia acted as chief surgeon.
"If the Congress votes this law in its present form, it will result in r indescribable confusion, wrath, and spilling of blood in a large sector of our common country," he orated "The concentration camps might as well be prepared, because there Will not be prisons enough to lock up the inhabitants of the South. . .
The law, he charged, would destroy "the system of separation of the races on which is founded the social order of the Southern states". (The Senator was speaking three years after the Supreme Court's decision holding segregation in public education unconstitutional.)
In an effort to appease the Southern Senators, the Senate agreed with rare unanimity to wipe from the statute books the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which had been a dead letter, anyway, ever since the Supreme Court invalidated most of it in 1908. Unappeased, the Southerners insisted that the new law be restricted to the right to vote; and the Senate agreed. Unappeased, the Southerners insisted that the new law be changed so that all cases arising under it would be tried by jury rather than by Federal judge (the latter having long been customary); and to this retrogressive step the Senate also agreed.
At last the Southerners had what they wanted; traditionally, whenever they have been unable to kill civil rights measures altogether, they have fought to put administration of the new laws into their own hands. In the South, where most juries are lily-white, it is not easy to find a jury willing to return a verdict of guilty in any civil rights case in which the complainant is black and the defendant white.