Saunders: Not voting? That should never be an option

bsaunders@newsobserver.comNovember 5, 2012 

Chill, homes. Cut me some slack, Jack. Easy, greasy.

Some of y’all somehow got the impression a few weeks ago that I don’t like the Rev. Billy Graham. All I did was call him a magnificent phony for using his Montreat mountain retreat to bestow his blessings on politicians who come and sit at his feet and whom he supports – even if it requires spiritual gymnastics to rationalize that support.

Way more galling than his tacit endorsement of Mitt Romney – it had to be tacit, lest his son Franklin and he jeopardize their enriching tax-exempt status – is the realization that, prior to his endorsement, he’d labeled Romney’s religion a cult. Thus, he had to click the “delete” button on his website so that endorsement wouldn’t look suspicious.

Forget all that. What I meant to say is that the Rev. Graham isn’t a phony but a paragon of principled fortitude – at least compared to some of the black preachers who are telling their church members not to vote. At all. For anybody.

So upset are some of these self-appointed anti-gay rights warriors over President Obama’s support for people to marry whomever they want that they are urging people to forgo voting, even though it’s a right that was bought with blood. Thousands of people risked and lost their lives, were set upon by dogs, braved high-powered water hoses and were fired from their jobs for simply trying to vote – yet in 2012 we’ve got black preachers telling them to, in essence, stay home today and watch “Wheel of Fortune.” Unfreakinbelievable.

Hear that? That’s the sound of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner crying out incredulously from the grave. “Don’t vote? Really, guys?” is what they’re asking.

That trio of idealistic young men was the original mod squad – one black, one white, one Jewish. They were kidnapped by a sheriff’s deputy, murdered by some Klansmen and buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Miss., for trying to register blacks in Mississippi to vote in 1964.

Philadelphia is also where Ronald Reagan delivered his first post-convention speech after winning the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. He affirmed his support for “states’ rights.” Oy.

Viola Liuzzo

That sound you hear is also the anguished wail of Viola Liuzzo, a white woman who left her family in Detroit for a while so she could come to Mississippi to help register blacks to vote. Somebody shot her dead – in the head – in 1965 for her trouble.

And now we have black preachers counseling black people not to vote?

Oh, man. I’d love to see one of them tell that to the Rev. Archie Ware if he were still alive. He didn’t get killed trying to vote in the 1948 Calhoun Falls, S.C., Democratic primary, although the Lord knows the mob tried.

In the Aug. 22, 1948, edition of the Lighthouse and Informer newspaper of Columbia, S.C., you can read the Rev. Ware’s account of being attacked at the Calhoun Falls high school after voting. “I threw my hands up as Mr. Black began trying to hit my head” with a club, he told the newspaper, “begging ‘Please don’t hit me.’ Knowing the two officers were right there, I kept backing to them. I had got almost to them when I realized they weren’t going to help. … One of the younger men stabbed my left thigh to the bone. All the time, I was trying to keep Mr. Black from hitting my head again.

“I managed to break away, and ran for about 150 yards, going toward my home, but I gave out and collapsed. They caught up with me. I saw their knives and heard one of them say, ‘I got a good mind to cut your throat.’ … One of them caught me with a hooknosed pocketknife in the right side and cut a deep, ugly gash. The doctor later told me that if I had not been rather fleshy, he would have perforated the intestines.”

The Rev. Ware said he prayed for the men to spare his life. “A while later, I remember hearing somebody saying, ‘That’ll do. Don’t cut him anymore,’ and I could hear feet leaving me.”

Ware, after getting stitched up by a doctor, was given some life-saving advice by white residents who didn’t like the way he was treated: get out of town before that gang of hooligans comes back.

From a 2011 news article in the Index Journal of Greenwood, S.C., and from people who knew him and his family, I learned that he caught the first thing smoking out of town when he got out of the hospital and ended up in Buffalo, N.Y.

Archie Ware Road

There’s an Archie Ware Road in Aiken, S.C., named after him, but he never walked on it or drove on it because he never returned to South Carolina.

Would you have?

More importantly, would you have dared tell him not vote?

Ware was probably unaware that the road was even named for him, just as he’d been unaware that the 100 or so other black men registered to vote in town in 1948 had been warned by their employers not to. “But nobody told me,” he said in that 1948 interview. “And if they had, I guess I would have tried to vote anyway.”

I’ll tell you what. The Tobacco Road Taliban and those black preachers around the country who hate gays would be more deserving of respect if they told their followers to vote for Mitt Romney than to tell them not to vote at all.

The price others paid for us to have that right was too high not to use it.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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