Black voters face many hurdles

Black voters face many hurdles

Friday, October 23, 2020

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MISSISSIPPI, United States (AP) — The old civil rights worker was sure the struggle would be over by now.

He'd fought so hard back in the '60s. He'd seen the wreckage of burned churches, and the injuries of people who had been beaten. He'd seen men in white hoods. At its worst, he'd mourned three young men who were fighting for black Mississippians to gain the right to vote, and who were kidnapped and executed on a country road just north of here.

But Charles Johnson, sitting inside the neat brick church in Meridian where he's been pastor for over 60 years, worries that Mississippi is drifting into its past.

“I would never have thought we'd be where we're at now, with blacks still fighting for the vote,” said Johnson, 83, who was close to two of the murdered men, especially the New Yorker everyone called “Mickey”. “I would have never believed it.”

The opposition to black voters in Mississippi has changed since the 1960s, but it hasn't ended. There are no poll taxes anymore, no tests on the state constitution. But on the eve of the most divisive presidential election in decades, voters face obstacles such as state-mandated ID laws that mostly affect poor and minority communities and the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of former prisoners.

By at least one measure, it's harder to vote in Mississippi than any other state. And despite Mississippi having the largest percentage of black people of any state in the nation, a black person hasn't been elected to statewide office in 130 years. After years of being shut out of state races, Democrats hope mobilising black voters and recruiting black candidates can eventually give them a path back to relevance in one of the reddest of red states.

But sometimes, it can seem that voting rights in Mississippi are like its small towns and dirt roads, which can appear frozen in the past.

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