By Roy Cook
military veterans will remember that momentous time they raised their
hand and committed themselves to support: the Constitution of the United
States, this land and the orders of those appointed above them. At that
time I had knowledge of the US constitution but not too clearly as of
the scope and of how it applied to the 'other' Americans.
As a military veteran (US Army Abn. RA, 1964-67 and AR, 1968-1973) of
the Vietnam era and assigned to the Southern region of the U.S.A. (Louisiana,
Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina). I have had a regional personal
experience during the 1960 civil rights activities. During that time there
were two main issues addressed by the southern Civil Rights Movement of
the 1960s. 1. Ending the "Jim Crow" system of segregation and
2. Winning the right to vote for Blacks (and Latinos, Native-Americans,
Asians, and others) in the South and elsewhere.
1787: U.S. Constitution
In the debates over adopting the U.S. Constitution there are bitter arguments
over who should be allowed to vote. In particular, the slave-states insist
that only white males be allowed to vote, yet they simultaneously demand
that their Black slaves be counted when figuring up how many members of
Congress each state is entitled to.
The Constitutional Convention cannot agree on any national voting-rights
standard so they leave it up to each individual state. This results in
an absurd system whereby the Federal government determines who can be
a citizen for the nation as a whole, but each individual state determines
which of their citizens have the right to vote. Most of the states decree
that only white males are eligible to vote, and most limit the vote to
those white males who own a certain amount of property. (In other words,
if you're an apprentice, or a renter, or homeless, you can't vote.) By
some estimates, less than 5% of the total populations are eligible to
vote in the election of 1800.
(Note that under the original Constitution the only Federal office anyone
could directly vote for was Congressman because the President was elected
by the Electoral College, and Senators were appointed by the state governments.
We still cannot directly vote for the President, which is why Bush occupied
the White House in 2000 even though Gore received at least 500,000 more
1850: Indian genocide
and Asian immigration
the early years of California statehood, the Southern CA tribes went largely
unnoticed by federal officials. Five years after the Senate rejection
of the 1850-1851-2 California Indian 18 treaties, tribes in San Diego
County were still uncertain of their status and bewildered by the various
government leaders who claimed dominion over them. What was clear to the
Indians was that the tribes to north received federal attention.
Establishment of the Tejon Reservation in 1851 and others in the Central
Valley over the next two years must have left the San Diego Indians wondering
when land would be aside for them.
Speaking to California Indian Superintendent Thomas J. Henley, Luiseño
tribal leader Manuel Cota spoke for many San Diego County Indians when
he inquired as to why Henley seemed predisposed to deal only with the
tribes of the north. Cota asked: "Why does he not come to see us
as well as the Indians of the Tulare and the Indians of the north ...we
claim as much attention as they do."
U. S. Congress, House, H.S. Burton to Major E.D. Townsend, Mission San
Diego, January 27, 1856, "Report on the Mission Indians", House
Executive Document. 76, 34th Congress, 3rd Session, 1856, p. 115. God
Gave It to Us First. The Seboba (Saboba) people are a member of the Serrano
tribe. They speak the Shoshonean language and are closely related to the
Luiseño and the Juaneno. These people have traditionally lived
in the San Jacinto Valley in what is now Riverside County.
Later in the mid1880s Soboba land was sold to white settlers as part of
the breakup of the Jose Estudillo land grant. Helen H. Jackson visited
Soboba village and provided a letter, from a young Soboba student, Ramon
Caval, on the dishonorable Tribal conditions.
Also, with the California gold rush, Asian immigration becomes significant
for the first time, mostly in the West. Under the "whites-only"
clause of the 1790 Naturalization Law, Asian immigrants cannot be citizens
but what about their children born in America? Government officials
try to avoid this "problem" by preventing Asian women from coming
ashore. These anti-Asian oppressive laws would remain in force until 1965
Yet, in WW II Lt.
Dan Inouye was recommended for the Medal of Honor. The MOH was awarded
by President Clinton in June 2000. The MOH is the highest military decoration
awarded by the U.S. Government. It is bestowed to servicemen and women
who risked their lives above and beyond the call of duty during combat.
- 1870 Right to Vote
may be surprised that the 15th Amendment does not apply to Native-Americans
or Asians because Native Americans, of all people, were not considered
to be citizens. 16,000 American Indians served in the First World War
and in recognition of their service were 'granted blanket' citizenship
in 1924 but it would not be ratified into law until 1948 in the west.
Similarly, it did not apply to Mexican-Americans in New Mexico and Arizona
because, at that time, 1870, they lived in territories that were not yet
states. While legally eligible to vote in Texas and California, Mexican-Americans
are still denied the vote through violence and economic retaliation.
Adoption of the 15th
Amendment in 1870 extends voting rights to Black males in theory.
In reality, there is massive resistance to the intent of the 15th Amendment,
particularly in the Southern states, but also in the North and Midwest.
Violence and economic reprisal are used to intimidate and prevent Black
men from voting.
The Naturalization Act of 1870 amends the 1790 Naturalization Law to limit
citizenship to "white persons and persons of African descent."
Thus the ban preventing Asian and Latino immigrants from becoming naturalized
citizens is continued. In 1898 the Supreme Court confirms that children
of Asians who are born in the United States are automatically citizens.
In response to this "yellow peril," over the following decades
a series of "exclusion acts," such as the Chinese Exclusion
Act of 1882, and "gentlemen's agreements," and court rulings
are put in place to limit (or prevent altogether) any further immigration
by Asians. Violence, lynching, and economic retaliation were widely used
against not only African-Americans but also Indians, Latinos and Asians
whether they were citizens or not.
fight for civil rights.
When Black, Latino,
and American Indian GIs return from the battlefields of WWII (and later
Korea), they demanded that all American citizens have the right to vote
regardless of race. They had fought and died for democracy abroad, yet
they cannot vote at home. (One out of every eight American GIs was an
African-American; Latinos and Native-Americans also made up significant
portions of the armed forces, which for the most part were organized on
a segregated basis.)
State laws denying the vote to Native-Americans are overturned.
In one of the post-war period's few successful legal challenges, the Federal
courts overturn the last state laws with large Native American populations
(Maine, Arizona and New Mexico) that explicitly prevent Indians from voting.
Violence, economic retaliation, and different kinds of legal tricks continue
to be used to prevent Native-Americans from voting.
of Voting Rights Act.
takes 57 days of floor-fighting and mass protests in the streets of Washington
to break the filibuster by Southern Senators determined to block the Voting
Rights Act. For just the second time in history, a southern filibuster
on a civil-rights issue is defeated on a bitterly divided vote. The Act
is passed and it outlaws voting phony "requirements"
such as literacy tests that were designed to deny the vote to people based
on their race or color. This applies not only to Blacks but also to Indians,
Asians, and Mexican-Americans. The law authorizes the Federal government
to take over registration of voters in areas where local officials have
consistently denied voting rights to non-whites. And the law establishes
that fluency in English cannot be made a requirement for voting eligibility
except for Arizona and other states.
1970: 26th Amendment
lowers voting age to 18.
of veterans under the age of 21 never came back from Southeast Asia. Veterans
and POWs still unaccountable had done more than earned the right to vote.
What was it we were fighting for in the 1960 and 70s? Where were you then?
What will you think of today about freedom for all and the history you
are living today?
Today and into the future we need to be vigilant of suppression tactics
include both legal ploys and outright deceit. For example a number of
states passed laws requiring voters to show a photo-ID before they can
cast their ballots. These laws discourage voting by the elderly and poor
who are less likely to own a car and are thus less likely to possess a
valid driver license or other form of photo ID.
fight to have our vote count.
Most recently, as a Nation, we have experienced the sad result that vital
decisions by private corporations and entities have had on: the economy,
trade, jobs, utilities, environment, worker-safety, privacy and communication.
These private organizations wield power that determines issues that affect
our lives in secret and determine policy that cannot be appealed or amended.
Too often by private campaign contributions their decisions over-ride
those made by our elected officials at all levels. This is not democracy-
one person one vote.
My America calls itself the home of the free and one of those freedoms
allows us our views on those truths we hold self evident. All we ask is
the right to be ourselves. Where are we now, as a Nation of many Americans?
Are we, as a Nation, able to respect our right to be what we are? If we
do not fit the 'cookie cutter' Americanization will we continue to be
marginalized? Are there any mirrors in our house of glass?
Authors views and http://www.crmvet.org/info/votehist.htm