REV. E. T. CAVINESS: THE RIGHT TO VOTE - 95 YEARS IN THE MAKING
CLEVELAND – The head of Cleveland’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Rev. Dr. E. Theophilus Caviness, took note of last week’s Presidential address at the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia about the gathering threat to the democracy.
While the President was right regarding the “unfolding assault” on the right to vote because of this month’s Supreme Court’s retrograding voting rights decision and because of about 400 bills pending and passed in states around the country to restrict access to the polls, Rev. Caviness put all this into historical context.
“The 15th Amendment giving newly freed slaves the right to vote required that Congress pass a law. That Amendment was ratified as part of the U.S. Constitution in 1870.”
“Growing up in East Texas, I knew as a young man the Constitution gave me the right to vote, but Congress failed in following the mandate. No law got passed, so I couldn’t vote.”
Few Americans realize that the ratification of the 15th Amendment’s right-to-vote didn’t mean much unless a voting rights law was passed.
“Congress finally passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. That was a 95-year wait to get the same access to the voting booth that white citizens already had,” said Rev. Caviness. “And we lost Black lives along the way. And to Congress, it didn’t matter.”
Those who tried to vote faced Ku Klux Klan violence, poll taxes and phony literacy tests. It is hard to fathom that Jim Crow voter suppression obliterated Congressional action for almost a century, but Rev. Caviness explained biblically why he never gave up that the day was coming:
“The Bible tells us to “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (I Corinthians 16:13 NIV) and then it invokes you to “...not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9 KJV). As we continue this struggle we must remember, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” (Acts 17:26 NIV).
The President’s warning last week in Philadelphia recognized the January 6 invasion of The Capitol was an attempt to overthrow the vote and overthrow the will of the people. “Look how close it came,” but for the fact that it had a clown for a leader this time, but clown esquire next time might very well succeed. Democracy is in jeopardy. Biden equated that effort to the proliferation of hundreds of bills introduced in state legislatures to do the same thing, calling it “a new wave of unprecedented voter suppression and raw and sustained election subversion.” Rev. Caviness equated this wave of voter suppression to II Peter 5:8 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
The justification for these nearly 400 state bills? “Massive voter fraud” state legislators claim. But Rev. Caviness explained they know better. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation, researching voter fraud, concluded that, for 20 years, incidents of fraud were minute, about 0.00006 percent and even Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr acknowledged that it was not widespread during the 2020 election.
Last month Rev. Caviness, as President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Cleveland, issued a challenge to the Ohio legislators. Relying on SCLC’s founder, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev.
Caviness quoted Dr. King’s 1957 challenge to Congress from the Lincoln Memorial, “Give us the ballot. We will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness [move forward.]”
Rev. Caviness went on to say, “As I look back over my life, I can attest to the power and the significance of the ballot. For a time in the House of Representatives, there were only two people of color in the persons of Adam Clayton Powell of New York and William Dawson of Illinois. Today, there are more than sixty people of color represented in the House.
For a long time, there was only one person of color in the Senate, in the person of Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts from 1967-1979 and then the first Black woman to serve, Sen. Carol Mosely Braun from 1993-1999. And let us never forget Senator Barack Hussein Obama of Illinois. I think I remember the time when this illustrious and distinguished gentleman became the president of the United States of America. Currently, we have three at the same time: Cory Booker (D-NJ); Tim Scott (R-SC) and who would have “thunk it” Raphael Warnock (D-GA). And guess who presides over the senate, as president pro tempore, none other than Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States of America, who represented California in the senate from 2017 to 2021.
This is what voting has accomplished. Dr. King had the foresight, the intestinal fortitude, and the determination to understand that if we vote, we win; if we don’t vote, we fail.
So, my admonition to those of this nation who believe in democracy, we must “...be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:58 KJV)”