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 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?”
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.