A few days ago, I got an forwarded email from a friend with the subject line "Camille Cosby's Speech." The email refers a Camille Cosby column on racism where she says that Black people will lose the right to vote in this country in 2007.
Seems outrageous, doesn't it? Something along the lines of Nigerian bank scams and spam promising to increase your penis three inches. But what if there's some truth in this email? It's time to hit the net and do some research.
First, I tried to figure out if Camille Cosby did actually say that. Lo and behold, it does seem that Mrs. Cosby did write an op-ed piece on July 8, 1998 in response to the killing of her son, Ennis, by a racist from Eastern Europe. In this piece, she does mention the Voting Rights Act. She writes that...
"The Voting Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 will expire in 2007. Congress once again will decide whether African Americans will be allowed to vote. No other Americans are subjected to this oppressive nonsense."
My next stop was the Urban Legends Reference Pages, a one stop shop where people can check on the truth behind any email that ends up in their inbox. Will Microsoft pay you to read email? (no) Are there really traces of cocaine on 80 percent of US dollar bills ? (yes).
In this particular case, doing a search on the "Voting Rights Act" reveals that the Voting Rights Act will indeed expire in 2007. The 15th amendment of the Constitution gave Blacks the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act was put into place in order to overcome the Jim Crow laws and obstacles put in place by Southern States to keep blacks from voting, including the poll tax and literacy requirements. If the Voting Rights Act were removed, local governments wouldn't have to consult with the federal government before making any changes to their voting rules. The Urban Legends article claims "that we as a society have finally (if slowly and painfully) progressed to the point we no longer need to take special measures to ensure that every citizen has a fair opportunity to participate in a democratic voting process. There are times when we should get all riled up about what our government is doing, but this isn't one of them."
I don't think I agree with that sentence. Both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were filled with scandals of Black disenfranchisement, especially in Florida. Michael Moore has a section of "Stupid White Men" devoted to it. The People for the American Way web site has an article detailing the extent to which politicians (mostly of the Republican stripe) will go to in order to reduce numbers of Black people at the polls.
I got more information on the Voting Rights Act, by checking out the page available at the Department of Justice pages here. They also have a response to the numerous letters that they have received as a result of these email forwards here.
From all these sources, I was able to put together these conclusions.
Camille Cosby did make that statement, but it's not completely right or wrong. If the Voting Rights Act expires, Blacks will still have the right to vote, but without the federal monitoring of both registration places and voting policies provided by the act, Mississippi might return from the 74.2% voter registration rate in 1998 to the 6.7% voter registration rate in 1965. It is fair to say that if this act is not extended, there will be enough leeway for local districts to incorporate any discriminatory practices they would like. That could result in many Black people finding that they cannot vote.
So what is there to do? I've sent an email to the Department of Justice asking about the process involved in extending the Voting Rights Act. I'll post any response I get.