Kevin M. Kruse @KevinMKruse Historian. Author/editor of White Flight; The New Suburban History; Spaces of the Modern City; Fog of War; One Nation Under God; Fault Lines. Nov. 05, 2018 3 min read

I just saw a couple tweets complaining about how people were trying to persuade them to get out and vote this year.

As someone who's researched the voting rights struggle, I've always found that dismissive attitude pretty infuriating. But never more than now.

I'm a historian, so let me do what we do, and offer reminders about what Americans sacrificed to get full access to the ballot.

This history goes back centuries, but I work on the modern civil rights era. We don't have to go back further than that to see the price people paid.

Reverend George Lee in Belzoni, Mississippi, used his pulpit and his printing press to encourage African Americans to register to vote.

For his troubles, he was assassinated by three men with shotguns in May 1955.

A few months later, Lamar Smith -- who had been busy trying to convince local blacks to vote -- was gunned down by three men on the lawn of the courthouse on a Saturday afternoon.

A crowd watched it happen, but originally police could find no witnesses to it.

In 1961, voting rights activist Herbert Lee was murdered by a state legislator in front of a dozen witnesses.

After a few years, one of the witnesses offered to testify about the murder. The night before he was going to leave the state, he was killed outside his home.

Medgar Evers, the head of the Mississippi NAACP, had been actively involved in a lot of this work.

In June 1963, he was gunned down by an assassin in his driveway. The full story here:

Most famously, in the summer of 1964, three voting rights activists -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner -- were detained by cops and then murdered by Klansmen in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

The next year, during the climactic voting rights protests in Selma, 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson was beaten and shot by Alabama state troopers in February 1965. He died soon after.

A few weeks later, Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston, was beaten by white supremacists who attacked him and two other clergymen who had come to Selma to support voting rights. Reeb died two days later.

Two weeks after that, four Klansmen murdered Viola Liuzzo, a mother of five from Detroit who had been giving rides to voting rights marchers after the Selma-to-Montgomery march. They chased her in their own car and shot her twice in the head.

In August 1965, Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopalian seminary student from Boston, was arrested along with a Catholic priest for supporting a voting rights campaign in Lowndes County, Alabama.

Almost immediately after their release, Daniels was shot to death by a deputy.

In January 1966, Vernon Dahmer, a well-off grocery store owner, announced on the radio in Hattiesburg that he would pay poll taxes for anyone who wanted to vote but couldn't afford it.

The Klan attacked his home that night.

The Klansmen threw jugs of gasoline into his home and set it on fire. As the fire spread, Dahmer fired his gun to scare the Klansmen off and got his wife and kids out of the house.

He finally made it out, but soon died from the severe burns and smoke inhalation.

"I've been active in trying to get people to register to vote," Dahmer told a reporter. "People who don't vote are deadbeats on the state. I figure a man needs to do his own thinking. What happened to us last night can happen to anyone, white or black."

But, sure, I hear you.

Voting sure can be a real hassle.

Why bother.


You can follow @KevinMKruse.



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