By George E Curry
We don't only have a right to vote on Tuesday, we have an obligation. No one is asking us to submit to police dogs or fire hoses on Election Day. No one is proposing that we risk our lives, which was the case just 50 years ago as African-Americans pursued their constitutional rights. All we're expected to do is what those who went before us can't possible do - we're expected to vote.
When I approach the voting machine on Tuesday, it will be with a great sense of pride, knowing that I will be doing something that would make my deceased relatives proud. While this will not be the end of the civil rights movement - as some right-wingers like to proclaim - it is an important step toward racial equality that has eluded the United States since its founding.
I must confess that I never thought I'd live to see this day. That's not being pessimistic, that's being realistic. To appreciate this moment, you must appreciate what African-Americans have endured, especially those of us who grew up in the Old South.
I'll never forget the indignity of having to ride in the back of the bus in my hometown, Tuscaloosa, Ala. I know how it feels to stare at "colored" water fountains and restrooms downtown. Of course, I'll never forget seeing my mother, Martha Brownlee, riding in the back seat of a car upon her return home after doing domestic work for the White woman driver. I remember thinking at the time that this woman felt my mother was good enough to cook their food and care for their children, but not good enough to ride in the front seat of her car. I filed that image away for posterity, determined that neither I nor my three younger sisters - Charlotte, Chris or Sue - would sit in the back seat of anyone's car unless we were being chauffeured.
Even as a teenager, I fully understood how the notion of White supremacy was designed to make Blacks feel inferior. When I took my mother to get her driver's license, like other African-Americans, we had to wait until every White person in the room completed the test before it was given to Blacks. I filed that scene away, too.
The irony of pervasive degradation, however, was that it made me stronger, not weaker. Those of us who survived America's version of apartheid knew that on our bad days, we were at least equal to the people who tried to suppress our humanity. Moreover, we knew that the wall of segregation would crumble and we did everything within our power to speed its demise. I am proud that a bunch of students from all-Black Druid High School piled in Joe Page's old car for a trip to Birmingham to protest the church bombing that claimed the lives of four innocent girls.
Because of the civil rights movement, things did change for the better. In 1970, I left Knoxville College in Tennessee for New York City, where I began my career in journalism as a reporter for Sports Illustrated, the largest sports magazine in the world. At the time I began work in New York, no African-Americans were allowed to work as reporters, editors or photographers at the Tuscaloosa News.
But even the Tuscaloosa News has changed. Not only are Black journalists employed there, the paper recently endorsed Barack Obama for president.
The editorial said, "He has a vision - unity, cooperation, healing and transformation - that most Americans share. He wants to re-orient the country to empower ordinary people, not just its wealthy voters, big corporations or Washington lobbyists. He wants to make government a helpful ally, not a suspicious monitor. He wants to replace swagger and bombast with genuine concern for rights and well-being."
The Tuscaloosa News? This is the same newspaper that published segregated classified ads when I was growing up. Now, it's endorsing a qualified Black man for president. In my hometown, Obama has already brought about change.
And he can bring about similar change for the country. That's why in casting a ballot for him on Tuesday, I will serve as proxy for the millions who did not live to see this day.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.
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