Now she sits there with hat and handbag, probably forever. In the Capitol, there has just been the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks. In 1955, Ms. Parks, a black woman, refused to give her seat on a bus to a white person. Thus began the Civil Rights Movement, a persuasive measure that resulted in the federal “Voting Rights Act” ten years later. With it, blacks in the South received the right to vote for practically the first time. They became equal citizens.
When one erects statues of a person, it is usually because their achievements are history. Yet in Washington, the highest judges are now arguing about whether the ostracism of blacks in the South is history. John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, posed the question like this: “[Are] the citizens in the South more racist than citizens in the North?” He did not sound as if he believed it.
The court must rule on a section of the Voting rights Act of 1965, that places nine states under guardianship: If these states want to change voting regulations, the federal government has to first give approval. This restricted right of control was developed out of the suspicion that the South could, at any time, fall back into its racist habits and make access to the ballot box so difficult that it would remain practically unavailable to blacks.
Is Discrimination Really History?
But is the suspicion still justified today? If one is to judge the questions of the judges at the hearing, the answer depends on where one stands politically. The conservative justices apparently consider the South to have been enlightened. One of them questioned whether or not the state of Alabama still needs to be “under guardianship.” Another found that the controversial passage in the Voting Rights Act immortalizes “special rights” for people of certain races. The leftist judge, Sonia Sotomayor, on the other hand, is amazed that the right to vote should be a “special right” and doubts that discrimination in the South is really history.
In the past year, Republicans have tried to block access to the ballot box via stricter identity requirements. They also made life difficult for early voters. Because primarily Democrats utilize this option, Florida’s conservative government restricted early voting; some citizens had to wait in line for hours. President Obama sharply criticized this because it primarily affected his voters — namely, quite a few blacks and latinos. Yet the question remains: Are Republicans harassing them because of their skin color or because they vote left?
In 2013, Americans are dealing with their past more than in other years. “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained” — films about the time of slavery — are playing in movie theaters. One hundred fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln declared slaves free men; 50 years ago Martin Luther King called for a march on Washington. There could be yet one more event if the Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, decides that the South is capable of treating black citizens like whites. Whatever the verdict, it will be controversial.