Dear alumni/ae and friends,
Growing up in the stubborn vestiges of the liberal segregated South of Durham, North Carolina, in the late 1950s and 1960s, one of the things that was drummed into little Black kids’ heads was the power and right of voting. From Civics classes to conversations in our homes to messages from stormy pulpits, we learned the story of the hard-won victories Black folk in the U.S. fought to be able to go to the polls without physical threat and pull the lever.
One of the most exciting things I did as a youth was to vote in my first election. I asked my folks and other adults over and over again what they actually did behind that curtain. The idea that I would soon be behind that curtain marked, for me, not only a rite of passage, but the act of assuming responsibilities for my right to vote.
And we learned the importance of studying the issues. Our teachers recited as mantra the importance of being informed, knowing the issues, not letting others tell you what to do with your vote, studying the issues and the candidates and listening to others as they discussed the issues. There was no hint of spin in the air, but we did learn the power of what has come to be known as dirty tricks. Intimidation at polling places, broken machines and too close electioneering were stock-in-trade in Black and poor white precincts even then. My education included the stories of Black folk going to town hall to register to vote and being turned away by the local police.
In spite of, or perhaps because of these realities, we were told, and I deeply believe, that a strong democracy rests on an informed and voting electorate. So, when I entered the voting both for the first time on Nov. 6, 1973, I was proud to be one of the 1,687 registered voters in my precinct and one of the 767 votes cast from our precinct in our municipal election. And I was not the odd kid among my peers. We were all proud to be voting and some of us even dressed up to do so—like folks used to do to travel by plane.
You may not dress up to vote these days, but it important to vote your conscience as a citizen of this republic. Please vote—a vibrant democracy depends on it.
Emilie M. Townes
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair
Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society