Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Give Us the Ballot

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On May 17, 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a group of 25,000 on The Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. It was a non-violent demonstration in Washington, DC and an early event of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, especially for the right to vote.

One of his least known speeches was made that day. It is so appropriate today because of the theme for this year’s Black History Month – African American and the Vote. His speech is named “Give Us the Ballot” which is the demand followed by the different changes that voting rights for African Americans will affect. His call for voting rights for African Americans is not only morally right but will lead to change for the better for all of America. He encouraged the follower to show love and understanding and abstain from violence. His speech to the president of the United States and every member of Congress asking them to give African Americans the right to vote went as follows:

Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.

Give us the ballot, and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.

Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

Give us the ballot, and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a “S o u t h e r n M a n i f e s t o” b e c a u s e of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.

Give us the ballot, and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy, and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who will, who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.

Give us the ballot, and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May seventeenth, 1954.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling, which declared that racially segregated public schools were inherently unequal. The justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. The decision overturned the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. The Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom was exactly three years after the 1954 decision.

Dr. King stated, “In the midst of these prevailing conditions, we come to Washington today pleading with the president and members of Congress to provide a strong, moral, and courageous leadership for a situation that cannot permanently be evaded. We come humbly to say to the men in the forefront of our government that the civil rights issue is not an ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo; it is rather an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation in the ideological struggle with communism.”

Submitted by: Jackie "Rip" Eichelberger