As we enter February of 2020, OUTMemphis would like to recognize and celebrate the observance of Black History Month. As Memphis is a city with a population of which Black citizens comprise 64%, we recognize that it is impossible to address LGBTQ+ issues in the Mid-South without issues specific to the Black population being a large part of that conversation.
Each year, ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History), the founding organization behind the national observance of Black History Month, focuses the attention of BHM on a central theme. This year’s theme is “African Americans and the Vote.” (Read their statement HERE). This year, 2020, is the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which officially granted suffrage (the right to vote) to Black men. Thomas Mundy Peterson made history as the first Black person to cast a ballot on March 31,1870, shortly after the 15th Amendment was ratified. It would be another 50 years until the 19th Amendment, which gave suffrage to women (of any race).
Thomas Mundy Peterson
Over the next many decades after the 15th Amendment was ratified, there would still be an abundance of racially targeted barriers to suffrage, especially in the South. Many states passed legislation that subverted the 15th Amendment, provided discriminatory loopholes, or otherwise made the practice of voting unnecessarily complicated as a way to suppress the Black vote.
In the heart of the Civil Rights movement, almost 100 years after the 15th Amendment was ratified, Lyndon B. Johnson would pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, dismantling these state-level barriers to suffrage and ensuring that the right to vote was free and open for all. This Act has been updated five times since, expanding its protections each time making it more and more possible for those who have been disenfranchised to have access to a ballot.
Even with these legislative measures in place, the voter suppression of Black and African American citizens still remains a de facto issue. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of Non-Hispanic Blacks that voted in the 2016 presidential election was only 59.6%, down from 66.6% in the 2012 Presidential elections. This is often due to voter registration purging, sparse and not easily accessible polling station locations, and other techniques that unfairly and disparately affect Black voters.
In March, the first of three major elections in 2020 occurs in Memphis. This Presidential Primary occurs on March 3 and will determine the candidates chosen from each party to run for President of the United States. The deadline for voter registration is Monday, February 3 to participate in this election. Generally, a voter must be registered thirty (30) days before, and mailed applications postmarked before that date will be honored. Tennessee makes it very easy to register, as you can do it online (see below).
If you would like to register to vote, visit the “Get Out The Vote” section of our website for information, including the link to register. There are also physical voter registration forms on hand at the OUTMemphis Community Center, should you prefer them.