When it wasn’t so easy . . .

Voting time is almost upon us and I am carried back to the summer of 1968, when I finally fulfilled a promise: I took  Mrs. Annie Carter, my mother’s cook, to register to vote.

The Voting Rights Act had passed. Clerks in Mississippi were no longer allowed to threaten black people, or turn them away, or make them interpret some tangled paragraph from the State Constitution. Which didn’t mean they welcomed the sight of another new dark voter.

I didn’t go alone. Most of my nerve in those days I borrowed from my new husband Bruce Rogow, who’d been a civil rights lawyer in Mississippi in 1965 and 1966, and who loved nothing more than facing down a bigot.

Annie Carter with my sister Sydney. They were best friends and called each other “Old Goat”.

Annie Carter was a formidable woman, tall and heavy, with a face that could stare you into a corner.

The three of us approached the counter, where the clerk waited with one of those whatever-you-want-the-answer-is-no looks.

Annie said, “I came to register to vote.”

Clerk: “What is your name?”

“Annie Carter.”

Clerk: “What do you do?”

“I cook for Mrs. Tom Watkins.”

Silently, he flipped through the pages of the registration book. His finger found a line and he  looked up, triumphant and accusing. “We already have an Annie Carter.”

Annie drew herself up to her full height and gave him a sample of her you’d-better-not-be messing-with-me voice. “Well, that ain’t me.”

We walked out with a brand new voter registration card, as giddy as three grown people can get. It was a weekday. Annie had to return my mother’s kitchen, which in no way prevented us from celebrating with her favorite sipping whiskey—Crown Royal.

3 responses »

  1. Margaret Sullivan

    How proud a day that was for you all. I was supposed to be able to vote in 1956–that is, I was old enough. But we lived in the District of Columbia and it was impossible to vote for president if you were a resident there until 1961. And DC residents still have no voting representation in either the Senate or the House. So much for equal representation there. I did actually get to vote the next year when we had moved to Virginia (we vote every year here, local elections for governor and such on the odd years). This was the height of massive resistance in much of the south and in Virginia, in addition to schools, one of the forms it took for a short while was that potential registrants were given a blank sheet of paper and expected to know what information was needed and provide it. That travesty didn’t last long but it was the only time I ever registered and I have voted on that annually ever since. This year is as important an election as I can remember–which goes back a long way–and we must guard the right to vote even more than ever. Use it or lose it

  2. It’s hard to face down bigotry, win and stay humble! In those days voting rights were racist-based. Today, those rights are not only racist-based, but also political-based. As always, the bigots need to be faced down. If we win, it’s grand; if not, we’ll remember who – and what party – devised rules meant to keep black and brown minorities out of the voting booth.

  3. I’m looking forward to movie Cloud Atlas, which looks at the battle between good and evil over time–the lesson being–evil may be defeated but it returns with a new face, and has to be defeated again.


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