The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 18, 2020 1:00 am

Exercising a hard-won right

With vote under threat anew, Black women must make their voices heard loudly at polls

Lisa D. Givan

“We must realize that we are grappling with the most weighty social problem of this nation, and in grappling with such a complex problem there is no place for misguided emotionalism. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate or malice. We must never become bitter. I know how we feel sometime. There is the danger that those of us who have been forced so long to stand amid the tragic midnight of oppression – those of us who have been trampled over, those of us who have been kicked about – there is the danger that we will become bitter. But if we will become bitter and indulge in hate campaigns, the new order which is emerging will be nothing but a duplication of the old order.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.


It's been 63 years since Dr. King delivered his “Give Us the Ballot” speech, and the plea for freedom is still the same.

For many individuals, recent events seem like deja vu. We're starting to feel as if we've been here before. We have fought and won some battles, but it seems as if we have lost the war.

My upbringing has instructed me, in times such as these, to pray and to vote. And I do both as if my life depended on it. In 2020, I vote because I will not allow the past to continue to repeat itself.

As the daughter of a father born and raised in Selma, Alabama, in the 1920s, I understand the power in lived experiences. My grandparents had to fight for basic human rights; those unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that were supposedly guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence.

My own lived experiences as a Black woman have shown me that I, too, must commit to fighting for the advancements and equity my ancestors fought for.

However, as Black women, our journey has been a bit more complicated throughout history.

Black women weren't included in initial conversations when rights were taken into consideration. We had to wait for privileges to be afforded to us. It took numerous amendments to the Constitution to acknowledge our voices.

As a person who is aware of her rights and privileges, and how much they have been withheld in the past, I vote.

It wasn't until 1869 that the 15th Amendment gave African American men the right to vote. However, they would still have to wait 96 years until the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965 to actually reap the benefits of representation. That still didn't include me, a Black woman.

The 19th Amendment granted (white) women the right to vote in 1920. However, once again, it would take almost another five decades for Black women to actually exercise that right after overcoming poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses.

I pay my taxes, I have passed enough standardized exams to be deemed literate and the only grandfather clause that's applicable to me is that my grandfather sacrificed during his life so that I could live out the truth that “All Men are Created Equal.”

In this coming election, there is not just a single cause that is bringing me to the polls; there are several. Several reminders that I cannot allow us as a nation to go backward.

Several issues of justice, humanity and courage that keep me in the fight. And several future leaders depending on my shoulders to hold them up while they transform the world.

I vote because it's a privilege that took many years to be afforded to me. I vote because I want my voice heard. I vote because it's a testament to my ancestors and their lived experiences. I vote for my own legacy. I vote because putting this country on repeat is not an option so, please, give me the ballot ... again!

Lisa D. Givan, a Fort Wayne resident, is an inclusion specialist.

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