Slavery and the Continuing History of Voter Suppression

by | Sep 10, 2021 | Racism (Us vs Them)

Photo by British Library

Slavery and the Continuing History of Voter Suppression

by | Sep 10, 2021 | Racism (Us vs Them)

Photo by British Library

Voter suppression for African-Americans began when their right to vote a fantasy. When our founding fathers were crafting our Constitution, the issue of voting rights was raised, and Afro-Americans were deemed to be ¾ of a person, which was a step up from slavery…or not.

African-Americans were transported to this country over 400 years ago, chained, whipped, and raped, treated as property. The ships that transported them were not part of the Royal Cruise Line, all you can eat buffet tables nowhere to be found. Instead, hundreds of Africans were stacked below deck, shackled, squeezed next to each other or on top of each other to save space. Air holes were forged in the ships so the enslaved people could breathe, plugged when the weather got rough.

The passage lasted one to six months, depending on the weather. Those who we be enslaved were systematically starved, many died, and the dead, including women and children, were thrown off the ship like rubbish,.

African-Americans began their American experience as enslaved people; the right to vote a fantasy. When our founding fathers were crafting our Constitution, the issue of voting rights was raised, and African-Americans were deemed to be ¾ of a person, which I guess is a step up from being a slave…or not. Actually, it was determined they weren’t human, but property, and slaveowners could count them as ¾ of a person, thereby giving more voting power to the slave owners. The more enslaved individuals you owned, the more political clout you wielded.

“The domination of the slaveholders in politics and journalism was so complete that the non-slaveholding interests had little voice.” Page 37 Masterless Men Kari Merritt

But before African-Americans could vote, they would first have to be classified as human, declassified as property. No one had the guts to stand up to slave owners, in other words, the bullies. Slave owners at that time were raking in obscene amounts of profit, with free labor forging the foundation for their wealth. Poor whites, possessing more rights than those who were enslaved, prayed that the spoils and trickle down of the slaveholder’s wealth would somehow descend on them. This false hope motivated them to embrace white supremacy, African-Americans being the red meat scapegoats that served on whom poor whites could blame their own misery.

From The Broken Heart of America by Walter Johnson:

“And importantly, thus has it been possible to make poor and working-class white people believe that their interests lie in making common cause with their political leaders and economic betters. Common cause in whiteness: the idea that they might eventually share in the spoils, and the understanding that the discomforts and anxieties of their own precarious lives were due–are due to–those below them rather than those above them, As the historian Robin D.G. Kelley suggests, guns and tanks and tear gas are sufficient to control the black people (or, for that matter, the Indians and immigrants); white supremacy is necessary to control the white people.”

We still see this phenomenon today, whites blaming the scapegoats President Trump off-loads, camouflaging his policies intentions which are designed to strip his constituents of their safety nets, pollute their communities, strip away their healthcare—2.3 million citizens so far have lost coverage. As in the Reconstruction Era, the white supremacy trickle down lure is the trigger for self-sabotage. People are actually voting for a man who has battled for four years to take away their lifelines, healthcare, and Social Security.

In 1860, the Civil War launched, a war the South insists till this day it was all about State’s Rights, not slavery, not the exploitation, the torture, and the dehumanizing of an entire race of people. Riding on the State’s Rights con, the South sought to bury their complicity in the South’s reign of terror on people of color. And the north was complicit in this holocaust, having financed and profited from the immoral exploitation of enslaved, men, women, and children; all justified and motivated by selected readings of scripture, similar to today where the Evangelicals use scripture to promote racism, Islamophobia, misogamy, in other words, White Supremacy, a plague alive and well in America.

“God had created some people unfit for freedom. Slavery was God’s will. To worry about slavery was to doubt god. To oppose it was heresy” Page 211 The Half has never been Told, Edward Batiste

The Emancipation Proclamation did free enslaved people…on paper at least. Officially, theoretically, African-Americans were free, could vote, but once the Compromise of 1877 was enacted, removing Federal troops from the South, voter suppression of African-Americans and people of color was uncorked. Former enslaved people could now vote if they paid a toll tax, or passed a literacy test, or survived a public hanging, and/or survived their home being firebombed. (By the way, slaveowners blocked public education for not only African-Americans, but for poor whites. They knew an educated citizenry was a lethal weapon against homegrown fascism.) Polling stations doors were wide open throughout the South, at least in theory. On a theoretical level, African-Americans were allowed to vote, but realistically, they could be killed if they make the attempt—all under the guise of maintaining and supporting the money-making power structure.

The Broken Heart of America by Walter Johnson:

“The master class had a long-established, effective, and well-planned system of social control. They kept the white poor uneducated and illiterate on purpose. Refusing to invest in a system of public education, slaveholders used public money to fund law enforcement departments, creating an intricate and bureaucratic criminal justice system. This system allowed masters to incarcerate (at will) whites who failed to follow their social dictates.”

That playbook’s legacy seems eerily familiar, with reruns occurring in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, among other places.

After the Reconstruction era was launched in the South, the Slaveholders zeitgeist saturated the South, the KKK emerging as the dominant instrument of control, the Taliban of that era. As the number of hangings of African-Americans exploded, the number of African-Americans who voted was reduced to subterranean levels. Hangings became a blood sport in some towns, sometimes attracting over 10,000 citizens, including women and children, who witnessed the brutal execution of an African-American. Hangings, fueled by the power structure, the former slave owners, and executed by poor whites, exploited these public executions, driving home the message that African-Americans weren’t human, were animals that needed to be suppressed and controlled, otherwise these beasts would end up raping their ultra-pure wives and girlfriends.

Can you imagine a white child witnessing such horror, the imprint that it makes, the legacy of hate and racism seared into a child’s soul? A kid mired and inculcated in this hatred, soaked in the racist propaganda, doesn’t shed this stain in a generation. It becomes deeply embedded into a family’s DNA, passed on to their offspring, offspring that perhaps becomes police officers in later generations, unwashed of the poison. Electing Barak Obama didn’t evaporate America’s racial cancer. It just poked the bear, with Trump shattering the hatch of white supremacy, exposing the untreated boil.

Denied education, ppor whites lapped up the racist propaganda force fed by former slave owners, whose land was returned to them by the Missouri Compromise. They becamse became soldiers for fascism and white supremacy. Poor whites had been stripped of everything else: jobs, education, political power; all that was left of their identity was whiteness.

Praying that former slave owners’ wealth would trickle down to them, poor whites ignored the common humanity they shared with poor blacks, instead embracing the divisive, poisonous bile spewed forth from former slaveholders and the KKK. Poor whites were the targets of slaveholder’s propaganda, who sought to separate white and blacks, knowing full well that their power could only be maintained if poor whites and blacks continued to combat each other. And they were able to run this con by keeping poor white’s illiterate, illiteracy being a sponge for disinformation and racist propaganda.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela

For African-Americans, it was illegal for them to read, subject to execution if discovered. So, if an African-American was able to educate themselves surreptitiously, they could possibly pass the literacy test and cast a vote. But here’s the rub: if they could pass the literacy test, that would reveal they had broken the law regarding African-Americans literacy, which in turn opened them up to being executed.

Hell of a dilemma: do I vote and or do I get hung in the city square?

“The master class had created a legal system that allowed them to imprison, brutalize, and murder anyone who challenged the slave-based hierarchy,… rising levels of incarceration, the “selling” of convicts and debtors, and the spectacle of public corporal punishment force poor white men to reflect upon the status of their rights as white citizens within the slaveholding South, and the results of the reflection did not bode well for the future.” Page 248, Masterless Men, Kari Merritt

We see here the origins of the Prison Industrial Complex; in other words, how can we make money off incarceration—poverty parasites. Slavery was outlawed but replaced by sharecropping, by prison labor, which is simply slavery smothered in make-up. And remember, if convicted of a crime, that makes you ineligible to exercise your most fundamental right, the ability to vote.

Today, these machinations are labeled voter suppression. The South, during Reconstruction, elevated that concept to a whole new plateau. And today, we no longer hang African-Americans who try to vote; it is more subtle, systematic, using the insidious gerrymandering, grandfather clauses, and voter ID laws designed to block African-Americans from voting, or to nullify their vote. Today we don’t have slaveholders suppressing the vote; we have mostly puppet Republican Congressmen, the one-percenters pulling their strings, tainted with the South’s cancerous legacy of racism igniting the machinations of voter suppression. Just last week, in Georgia, Republicans are trying to nullify the registration of 75,000 new voters.

This insidious voter suppression morphs into all kinds of deceitful structures. In the 2016 election, we had Russian operatives creating Black Lives Matter websites, telling African-Americans not to vote, that their vote didn’t count.

The strategic legacy of Reconstruction was to keep the black and white working poor separated, at odds with each other by implanting disinformation, while the power structure burglarized the cupboards of the working class.

“Southern captains of industry quickly learned from slaveholders how to pit poor white and black laborers against each other, and commonly used enslaved people as strikebreakers.” Page 99, Masterless Men, Kari Merritt

“And even though small land-holders were hardly seen as equals to the large slave owners, the Genoveses concluded that because they aspired to become plantation owners themselves, yeomen “were led step by step into willing acceptance of a subordinate position in society.” Page 139 Masterless Men, Kari Merritt

Hangings continued into the 20th century. Between 1882-1968, 3446 African-Americans were hung, a ritual that hardly promotes free and fair elections. Despite the terrorism, the horror perpetuated upon African-Americans, they made very small, incremental in-roads into the voting booths. And in the 50’s and 60’s, civil rights workers descended on the South, courageously getting blacks to register, despite death threats and executions: i.e. Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner. Robert Moses was another who did courageous work in Mississippi, somehow managing to escape the hangmen’s noose.

“As previously discussed, antebellum courts functioned on a fee system from a sheriff’s fee for the actual arrest itself, to accrued daily jail fees, to the payment of the solicitor general, the courts depended on the accused for reimbursement of their own legal costs, criminal convictions, could vary widely, from 5 to 110 dollars to hundreds of dollars for more serious offenses.” Page 235 Masterless Men, Kari Merritt

This is the Prison Industrial Complex in its infancy.

Industrialists craved prison labor as it generated obscene profits, and it behooved them to keep the incarceration count high for a few reasons: it provided slave labor for their firms, and it kept African-Americans from organizing and most frightening to them, it stopped African-Americans from voting. Voting was the kryptonite to their power, and they used whatever means necessary to squash the assertion of rights by African-Americans, the right to vote being the most impactful.

“As late as 1908, Georgia’s African American prisoners outnumbered white convicts almost ten to one.” Page 336, Masterless Men, Kari Merritt

And there were many machinations used to keep black and white poor separated, one of which was the threat of a race war. Industrialists and former slaveholders enlisted poor, degraded whites into their holy war, but it was really a war for profit, collateral damage notwithstanding. If blacks and whites were allowed to connect, which they secretly did, (enslaved people often stoled food from their masters to give to starving and degraded whites.), they would discover their common humanity. If that were to occur on a major level, the power of the exploitative landowners would start to erode.

“By the eve of war, affluent Southerners used an insidious form of racism to try to scare lower-class whites into supporting secession predicting that the poor would be slaughtered by the thousands in an inevitable race war following emancipation,” page 35 Masterless Men, Kari Merritt

This blueprint is being replicated today with QAnon and the Proud Boys, both prophesying a race war. Here is a Trump supporter in Pennsylvania:

Roger: “A race war is coming. It will be black against white, Hispanic against white, and we will fight it out in the streets.” We’re Still Here” Jennifer Silva

The residue of slavery festers in our culture, lobbying for race wars, cementing the divide that benefits the few.

“By predicting that poor whites would be massacred by the “black plague,” masters tried to scare white laborers into supporting the institution of slavery—regardless of what it did to their jobs or wages.” P292 Masterless Men, Kari Merritt

After the demonstrations and horror accompanying the Civil Rights movement, a bill was passed in Congress in 1965, the Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing the right to vote for all citizens.


Not so fast. The systemic racist structures that perpetuated African-American disenfranchisement was declared unlawful, unconstitutional—in theory. The legacy of disenfranchisement continues to this day. They no longer hang potential voters, or administer literacy tests, or poll taxes; these systemic structures, now outlawed, have been replaced by the new set of voter suppression structures: gerrymandering, voter I.D. laws, shutting down polling stations, removing mail boxes and voting boxes in people of color’s communities.

After all these decades of voter suppression directed toward people of color, Republicans twist the knife one more turn: Trump filed over sixty lawsuits after the 2020 Presidential Election seeking to nullify the ballots of African-American communities: Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit.

When will this stop?

If you believe in democracy, this has to stop. If you don’t believe in democracy, well, I get it. Just be honest about it and let your Communist flag fly. Since the days of slavery, many leaders in this country haven’t really believed in, or endorsed Democracy. They have never embraced the maxim of “All men are created equal…”

“It is their hope, and intention, under the guise of vagrant laws, etc. to restore all of slavery but its name”…To deal with this lack of infrastructure, the old master class returned to convict leasing.”
page 335 Masterless Men Kari Merritt

The big lie promulgated by Republicans is that Democrats embrace Communism, which makes them unpatriotic, guilty of treason. It’s the exact opposite: Democrats fight to install Democracy, Republicans fight to suppress it, and there is no better evidence than their voter suppression campaign. Open and free elections are the oxygen, the fiber of American Democracy. Without it, we’re just another third world country, ruled by the arbitrary whims of a dictator.

Forces today continue to drive a wedge between black and white, it’s ringleader our current president. The subsequent chaos that ensues from disinformation guarantees the entrenchment of the current power structure, which is insidious, powerful, and will fight tooth and nail to maintain their privilege, their station, and their cash. It is a juggernaut whose power rests on exploitation and division.

“Historically, people in power have counted on hostility and division within the working class, particularly between African Americans and northeastern ethnic whites or southern white populists, to reduce the possibility of a strong united working class.” We’re Still Here, Jennifer Silva

“…by encouraging the enemy of the poor, laboring white man against the black, the slaveholder “succeeds in making the said white man almost as much a slave as the black slave himself” Fedrick Douglas, Masterless Men, Kari Merritt

We need to stop falling for the con of scarcity, the trickle-down con. The greatness of our country rests on the foundation of inclusion, diversity; it rests on recognizing our common humanity, that our strength as a country rests on consecutiveness, not divisiveness. Leveling the playing field does not make use weaker; it makes us stronger as it invites the talents of all people to participate in this grand experiment called DEMOCRACY.

Our glory, our power, is neutered when we fall for the con that our scapegoats, our enemies, are people who don’t look like us. Right now, poor whites and poor blacks are fighting each other, believing desperately each is the is the source of their discontent, their poverty. The Trump administration has flamed, and manipulated, and exploited, this artificial chasm since day one of its reign.

America’s culture, it’s greatness, flourished from the infusion and richness of other cultures. We can’t shut off that wellspring; it is our lifeline, lifeblood, the mana for our glory.

I will end with this:

“Forced migration to the frontiers of slavery took children from parents who named them and taught them to talk, brothers from sisters who carried them as babies, wives from husbands who had whispered to them in the night, men from friends who had taken whippings rather than betray them. Survival by means of joint effort would require strong bonds, and all existing strong bonds had been broken.”Page 148, The Half Has Never Been Told”. Edward Batiste

According to Thomas Jefferson: “separation from loved ones mattered little to African Americans.” Page 192 The Half Has Never Been told, Edward Batiste

Yes, he said that.

There is a story, repeated thousands and thousands of times back in antebellum times, of a child who use to walk to the gates of the plantation every morning expecting to see her mother walking down the path, returning home, and embracing her child. But the mother never came, having been sold off by the slave owner for profit. Imagine the hole in a five-year old’s heart, as it stands by the gate, patiently waiting for her mother to appear…and she never does.

And two hundred years later, we have kids in cages at the border, staring through wire, yearning for their parents to return. Imagine the hole in these kids’ heart.

Has America not evolved since the antebellum days? Has kindness, empathy, evaporated or been extinguished in our nation? Are we no better than slaveowners from the antebellum period? Why does this level of cruelty persist in America?

This residue of slaveholders’ mind-sets continues to stain our Republic. America has yet to shred this legacy of hateful, suppressive, disinformation. As a result, African-Americans are executed during traffic stops; we have administration officials who think putting kids in cages is a good idea. The fact that we have separated over a thousand kids from their parents poisons our nation to its core.

We are still fighting the Civil War, not with weapons, but with ideas. To many Americans don’t believe in Democracy, don’t believe that ‘all men are created equal’.

Until we shred this slaveholder legacy, our greatness will forever be compromised as this cancer sabotages our strength, our greatness, and our Constitution.

My eyes have seen the glory of America every day, it’s promise: the glory of connection, the glory of shared humanity, and the glory of the American Dream!

Originally published on

<a href="" target="_blank">Curt Strickland</a>

Curt Strickland

Curt Strickland is one of the principal owners of Great American Art, an art and design company located outside Boston. Founded almost 40 years ago, Great American Art designs, manufactures and installs art throughout the country. Curt is also one of the principle photographers for Great American, specializing in landscape and cityscape images. His philosophy as an artist is embraced in GAPCO’s mission:

“Art should serve to heal, inspire, provoke, challenge and to offer hope – but most of all to connect… to remind us of our common humanity.”

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