Opinion | Assault on Black votes in Wayne County reminiscent of Jim Crow

The following is an essay on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers’ initial refusal to certify election results.

My entire life, I’ve understood this nation’s painful and difficult, racist history of denying the vote to black people. First, because we were property and not humans. Then, because, despite a devastating war and a constitutional amendment, southern states invented new barriers to throw in our way and block us from the ballot.

And just one generation before me, my father, born in Mississippi, returned home from his service in the Korean War only to be told he could not vote, because he was black.

Stephen Henderson

Stephen Henderson is the project executive and founding editor of BridgeDetroit, and a former writer and editor for the Detroit Free Press, Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune. Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, Henderson is a Detroit resident and native.

But until Tuesday, I’ve never feared that my own vote may be discounted. I’ve never worried that when I pull the lever or put the paper ballot in the machine, that my vote might be disqualified for bogus reasons, or certainly not because I was Black. I have voted mostly in neighborhoods where I’ve lived nearly my whole life. I never took it for granted, given the history. But I never thought my own vote was in doubt.

But as the Wayne County Board of Canvassers met on Tuesday, and took an initial vote refusing to certify the ballots cast two weeks ago for president and the other offices, all of a sudden, I felt in my own gut, what Black Americans before me felt their whole lives. 

And when Monica Palmer, one of the Republican canvassers who did not want to certify the vote, said she would happily certify Wayne county ballots outside of Detroit but not those from the city, I felt the weight of all that history come crashing down on my soul, and in my heart.

“I don’t want to talk about reconciliation. I don’t want to think about our future together as a country. Not right now.”

Palmer might just as well have said we had failed to pay a poll tax or pass a literacy test, or properly guess the number of jelly beans in a jar full of them. 

Those were the barriers white racists put in front of my father to prevent him from voting. 

The weak and absurd, unsubstantiated accusations from modern-day white racists about “voter fraud” in Detroit are the same. They are identical, and they stab at our rights with the same intent as Jim Crow did before: To be sure that we don’t count. 

I need to be honest here. The anger I feel at the very notion of that effort makes it hard for me to see through to much other feeling or thinking about what white racist supporters of President Donald Trump have been saying and doing since he lost the election, fair and square, two weeks ago. 

I don’t want to talk about reconciliation. I don’t want to think about our future together as a country. Not right now. 

“If this republic falls because we won’t, well, so be it. This nation does not deserve to survive if it cannot meet the most basic measure of equality, and that starts with ensuring the franchise.  I am not flexible on that position. I do not know any African American who is.”

What I want to do is whatever is necessary to stop this vile and cowardly attack on Black people and our voting rights. That is the nation’s business — Black and white. This effort must be put down from inside the insane asylum that is fomenting it, as well as from the outside. White Republicans who have stood aside and allowed this president to do and say the unthinkable have got to stand apart now. Call out the lies and the terrorization of Black communities. Tell this president and his followers that the conscience of this nation cannot abide even the threat of the mass disenfranchisement they are seeking. 

We, as African Americans, will not go back to the barriers our fathers and mothers and great-grandparents smashed and tore down. We will not countenance a requirement that we, and we alone, fight to preserve the legitimate exercise of our voting rights. 

And if this republic falls because we won’t, well, so be it. This nation does not deserve to survive if it cannot meet the most basic measure of equality, and that starts with ensuring the franchise. I am not flexible on that position. I do not know any African American who is. 

“The threat and the narrative about wholly imagined and unsubstantiated “voter fraud” continues.”

So where does that leave us? 

For now? Maybe nowhere. And that’s OK. Until we can put down this threat, there isn’t much else to discuss, or resolve. 

It needs to end here, and African Americans need to be assured of that as soon as possible. 

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers reversed its initial vote to decertify Tuesday, following massive outcry at the board’s public meeting. 

That was the right thing to do. But it isn’t enough. 

But the threat and the narrative about wholly imagined and unsubstantiated “voter fraud” continues.

This essay originally appeared on WDET and is republished with permission.

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Wed, 11/18/2020 - 6:50pm

Everything to do about a fair election - nothing else.

Eaton Crow
Thu, 11/19/2020 - 2:32pm

The only thing that can relate to "Jim Crow" is the fairness being shown to republican votes.

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 4:49pm

Lies, and you know it. You have to be willfully ignorant to conclude that what the GOP is doing here is about ensuring a fair election. Using such easily seen lies as a fig leaf for your actions are reprehensible, and a common tactic in defending Jim Crow...

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 1:40am

The Board of Canvassers job is to certify the vote count in the election is fair and accurate. If anyone of them feels it isn't, then it is their obligation to vote not to certify it. Instead of playing the race card, why not interview those people and find out why they are not voting to certify the election, like a reporter would do. There has been allegations of fraud, and some proof of it, in Detroit elections going back 50 years, especially when they found out 100,000 citizens of Detroit switched to vote Republican in 2016. The canvassers asked for the Sec of State to audit the election results, not to disqualify votes because the majority of the population is black.

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 4:16pm

It's absurd how the Democrats have been treating people lately.

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 4:20pm

Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 4:27pm

Discrimination exhibits in different ways. It is going to be with us forever. (example. "white trash" you know who it is) Biden-Harris must pass laws. 1. The US president, while in office, can be punished, for violating the US constitution. 2. No Gerrymandering. Example only. Make the US postal 5 digit address, also used for voting districts. 3. Valid driver's license, US Passport, Birth certificate, etc. could be used for identification, voting eligibility anywhere in the country. Software must be improved to identify the voter's face recognition, and eligibility to vote from anywhere in the world and validate the vote. These things can be done now. Then the country will change for the better.

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 4:28pm

A free and fair election, everyone deserves it. It is one of our rights.
Accepting anything but the truth, legal votes and fair tallying practices is unacceptable and everyone should support that. The sides can switch very easily the next time.
Anyone threatening a poll worker, officer or state election official should be charged with the maximum penalties.

L. Sims
Thu, 11/19/2020 - 4:55pm

Republicans wonder why Blacks vote Democrat. It's because of their history of racism which continues to this day. They like to blame Democrats for the creation of the KKK but always neglect the rest of the story of when the white racists switched sides to the Republicans where they happily remain to this very day. All republicans do is lie, spin and float ridiculous conspiracy theories that get people killed.

Sun, 11/22/2020 - 8:09am

Yes, when you put your vote in a tabulator it should count as 1 vote. It should not count as 1.23 votes if your vote was for Joe Biden, and not count as 0.77 votes if you voted for Donald Trump, which is what this fight is all about with the Dominion tabulators. A good correspondent would seek out Sidney Powell, an attorney, and interview her, and a good newspaper would print what she said.