Dr. Alveda C. King: Why We Must Vote

Wednesday, 19 Sep 2012 09:06 PM

By Dr. Alveda C. King

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Dr. Alveda C. King’s Perspective: My uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a book called “Why We Can’t Wait” that was published in 1964 — four years before an assassin’s bullet took him away from us.

He knew that the power of the ballot would be far more powerful over the decades that would follow than mere weapons — even though one ended his mortal life.

I can prove it to you. Do you remember the name of my uncle’s assassin some 48 years ago? Most people don’t. But we still celebrate the civil rights struggle in America launched by my uncle to this day.

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Friends, please don't shun the voting booths this fall as I’ve been hearing around the black community. Not just my uncle — but many people have died — so we can vote.

And not just blacks — women and others have had to fight in order to vote. Don't give naysayers the opportunity to say that we never deserved the right to vote in the first place. We can vote our convictions. We can write in our vote for those who are not on the ballot, and we can vote down candidates who we cannot support.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said on Jan. 1, 1957, “I have come to see more and more that one of the most decisive steps that the Negro can take is that little walk to the voting booth. That is an important step. We’ve got to gain the ballot, and through that gain, political power.”

The 15th Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that governments in the United States may not prevent a citizen from voting based on that citizen’s race, color, or previous condition of servitude (i.e. slavery). It was ratified on Feb. 3, 1870. This decision allowed black men to vote; but Jim Crow laws and other factors suppressed the black vote until 1965.

Today, the right to vote is a fundamental civil right in the Unites States — granted to African Americans after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed many of the practices that were previously used to keep black people from exercising their right to vote.

The Voting Rights Act came up for ratification in 2009. The Supreme Court extended the act though it is suggested that the ratification clause may eventually be struck down as unnecessary as it appears the court now believes that there should be no distinction made between the voting rights of black and white United States citizens.

Historically, the right to vote has also impacted women, immigrants and ex-offenders. The national right for the women’s vote came in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Immigrants, who become naturalized citizens, also have the right to vote in all elections.

In most states, prisoners are not allowed to vote while they are in jail or prison. Once they are released, they may lose the right to vote either temporarily or permanently. Ex-offenders can appeal to have their voting rights restored if they are pardoned by the governor or legislative state authority.

As the daughter of Rev. A. D. King and his wife Naomi, I can well remember the struggles over the vote that took place in the mid-20th century. Men like my father, my grandfather, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., and my famous uncle as well as many brave women fought hard to further establish the black vote. Many people have fought and died to maintain the privilege and right for black citizens to vote in the U.S.

So, not voting is simply not an option.

There are more than two presidential candidates on the upcoming ballots. We can vote for the candidate who most clearly reflects our values. We can vote for one of the two popular candidates, or we can write in the candidate of our choice.

Some consider the write-in option a wasted effort, not a vote. The real waste would be failing to respect the efforts of those who fought — and yes, died — for our right to vote.

Beyond the obvious presidential candidates, we must also choose our other leaders. Whatever we decide to do, we must surely honor those who have gone before us.

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I am reminded of the words I spoke to a group of students in 2006: “The road is long, with many a winding turn (from the song: ‘He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother’). The babies are our brothers and sisters. God moved on my spirit and he said, ‘The hearts of the people must be changed. We have to take the long road home. He didn’t say ‘no.' It’s gonna happen (overturning Roe v. Wade)."

Be wise, don't cast away your vote — or your confidence in God.

Dr. Alveda C. King grew up in the civil rights movement led by her uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She is a pastoral associate and director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life and Gospel of Life Ministries. Her family home in Birmingham, Ala., was bombed, as was her father’s church office in Louisville, Ky. Alveda herself was jailed during the open housing movement. Read more reports from Dr. Alveda C. King — Click Here Now.

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