– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney
On the eve of Election Day, we give thanks for those who have worked to extend voting rights to all Americans. Our country was 144 years old before women were granted the right to vote, with Tennessee playing a decisive role in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. This year marks the centennial of the of the passage of that amendment. Although the 15th Amendment – adopted in 1870 – barred voting rights discrimination on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” people of color were denied the right to vote by poll taxes, literacy tests, and other discriminatory practices in subsequent decades. The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 dismantled some of the systemic discriminatory practices, but efforts to intimidate voters of color continues to the present election.
We would be wise to remember that while some people were motivated by their faith in God to work for universal suffrage, viewing voting rights as an issue of human dignity and justice, others used religious language to bolster their rationale for excluding women and people of color from voting booths. American history is unfortunately filled with disturbing examples of people who have done ungodly things in the name of God.
As we see video footage of women and people of color voting, keep the story of Fannie Lou Hamer in mind. On an August evening in 1962, Mrs. Hamer heard a sermon at William Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Ruleville, Mississippi, that launched her on a trajectory of voting rights activism. She made three attempts to register to vote before she succeeded, but her efforts came at a cost: she and her husband lost their jobs at the plantation where they worked, she faced death threats, and she was severely beaten. Nevertheless, she persisted. Her activism was rooted in her Christian faith, in her belief that all people are created by God in the image of God and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Voting rights are human rights.
On the eve of Election Day, let us give thanks for Mrs. Hamer, and let us commit ourselves to working together for liberty and justice for all.
Published on November 2, 2020