State Politics

Obama praises lead plaintiff in NC voting-rights lawsuit

Rob Stephens, with the N.C. NAACP, escorts Rosanell Eaton out of the Ward Federal building during lunch recess.
Rob Stephens, with the N.C. NAACP, escorts Rosanell Eaton out of the Ward Federal building during lunch recess. The Winston-Salem Journal

Rosanell Eaton, a 94-year-old Franklin County resident who had to recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution to three county registrars in the 1940s to be eligible to vote, got a special mention this week from the U.S. president.

President Barack Obama described his admiration for Eaton in a letter to the editor of The New York Times after the magazine’s Aug. 2 article about a 50-year campaign to dismantle protections in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In that letter, published Wednesday in response to the piece by Jim Rutenberg, Obama said he was “inspired to read about unsung American heroes like Rosanell Eaton.”

“It’s a cruel irony that the words that set our democracy in motion were used as part of the so-called literacy test designed to deny Rosanell and so many other African-Americans the right to vote,” Obama wrote. “Yet more than 70 years ago, as she defiantly delivered the Preamble to our Constitution, Rosanell also reaffirmed its fundamental truth. What makes our country great is not that we are perfect, but that with time, courage and effort, we can become more perfect. What makes America special is our capacity to change.”

Eaton, one of the N.C. plaintiffs challenging the 2013 election law overhaul in North Carolina, also was arrested at the N.C. Legislative Building on June 24, 2013, as part of the “Moral Monday” movement challenging the voting law changes and other key pieces of the new Republican platform in this state. The charges were eventually dismissed.

Now Eaton and others involved with the lawsuit await a decision from U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, who heard arguments last month in a Winston-Salem federal courtroom on key pieces of the 2013 overhaul.

“I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality,” Obama stated. “Their efforts made our country a better place. It is now up to us to continue those efforts. Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act.”

Obama said state leaders and legislatures “must make it easier – not harder – for more Americans to have their voices heard.” He also encouraged all to vote.

“Rosanell is now 94 years old,” Obama stated. “She has not given up. She’s still marching. She’s still fighting to make real the promise of America. She still believes that We the People have the awesome power to make our union more perfect. And if we join her, we, too, can reaffirm the fundamental truth of the words Rosanell recited.”