Long Island Center Mentor Jim Robinson gives a poignant description of his attempts to get African-Americans in the South to register to vote at a time when and a place where their voices and choices were severely restricted. His serves as an important reminder of the struggles minorities underwent to vote, and why we should not squander this important civil right.
Empire State College Community Encouraged to Register to Vote in Time for November Elections
By Ian Reifowitz, mentor, Long Island Center
October 14, 2014
Empire State College students, alumni, faculty and staff span the country – and the world. Their influence as a group is potentially substantial and registering to vote is important.
Professor Jim Robinson, who teaches political science, recounts his experience registering African-Americans in the south just after the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Before this law’s passage, segregation meant that black southerners were denied their constitutional rights through intimidation and, all too often, brutal violence, he says:
“In 1965, I was a sophomore at NC State in Raleigh, N.C. I was asked to participate in a voting registration drive. Four or five of us from the college went together one night to an African-American neighborhood, where we knocked on doors asking people to register. I was surprised when many people would not let us in the door. Those who did quickly registered and asked us to leave. I asked a black friend who was with me what was going on. He looked at me with astonishment. ‘They’re afraid,’ he said simply.
“The memory of that night has never gone away. The people we registered knew that voting might not change things, but they went to the polls anyway, and at great personal risk. Since that time, voting for me has been a privilege. I have always registered, and I have voted.
“We are living in a period of discouragement. We are confronted daily with news of discrimination, corruption and violations of individual rights. Many people do not register and many more do not vote. What this means, of course, is that a very small number of people can sway an election, one way or the other. Those who do not vote increase the power of those who do. They abandon their right to make a difference.
“Voting is not a chore, and it is not a luxury. It is the right to make a difference. And, to exercise that right, registering is the first step.”
The full article can be found at: Issue 69, October 14, 2014: Register to Vote | The Student Connection | SUNY Empire State College.