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150 Years After Ratification of the 15th Amendment, Black Votes Are Still Contested

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” So reads the 15th Amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870, the third of what came to be known as the Reconstruction amendments.

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“The National Colored Convention in Session at Washington, DC.” Harper’s Weekly (February 6, 1869). Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, https://librarycompany.org/

The Black fight for the franchise

By Mel Reeves, Community Editor, Minnesota Spokesman-Review

As conservatives in some states continue to assault the fundamental right of citizens to vote by purging voter rolls, requiring certain ID’s and adding onerous burdens to dissuade folks from voting it’s important to note that this is nothing new. In fact, this week marks the 150th Anniversary of the Republican Party’s effort to put a halt of the former Confederate states’ and some former Union states’ efforts to prevent the newly freed slaves from exercising the franchise.

Voting, or the ability to have a say or at least the appearance of a voice, is seen as a fundamental, basic, guaranteed right in American democracy. Taxation without representation is what led to this country’s violent break with its then-colonial master England.

Electioneering in the South, circa 1868. Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-3fa3-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Electioneering in the South, circa 1868. Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-3fa3-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

The right to vote is seen in the U.S. as one of the most fundamental tenets of the nation’s democracy. However, historically many people who qualified as citizens of the republic were denied the right to vote from the beginning, including women and poor White men. In the early days of the Republic, the franchise was given only to White males who owned property.

Immediately after the Civil War, as a result of Union soldiers being stationed in Southern states, newly freed slaves were allowed to vote. Before the passing of the 15th Amendment, Congress had passed the Territorial Suffrage Act as means of allowing Blacks to vote in the newly opened U.S. territories.

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” So reads the 15th Amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870, the third of what came to be known as the Reconstruction amendments.

The Reconstruction amendments included the 13th, which outlawed slavery, and the 14th, which granted citizenship to the freed slaves as well as guaranteeing equal protection under the law.

The 15th Amendment was passed by the United States Congress in 1869 in a move designed to assure the right to vote to its newly freed ex- slaves.

Freedmen Voting in New Orleans, circa 1867. Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-3fd9-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Freedmen Voting in New Orleans, circa 1867. Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-3fd9-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

The Radical Republicans did not wholeheartedly support the bill because it did not include wording that would prohibit poll taxes and literacy tests that were already being employed to prevent Blacks from voting. The monied class among the Whites recognized immediately the danger of Blacks being able to vote. Not only would White Supremacy be challenged, but they understood the ex-slaves had a more egalitarian, labor rights-friendly and social justice-oriented political agenda.

Technically, as citizens of the U.S., the freedmen had the franchise, but this amendment sought to cement that idea and prevent interference with Black voting. The newly freed slaves quickly took advantage of their ability to vote and voted their interests, which ironically helped lift the plight of their poor White brethren. As a result of being able to vote, Black voters sent several of their own to Congress. One of the most notable was Hiram Revels of Mississippi.

Revels was the first African American senator. He was one of the 16 Black men from seven Southern states who served in Congress during the Reconstruction era (1865-1877). They served as public officials under the constant threat of racial violence. In fact, Revels was eventually literally chased out of office and had to run to avoid being lynched.

The 15th Amendment did not give women the right to vote, nor did it give Native Americans the franchise. It continued to exclude ethnic Chinese, but it did open the door for poor White males.

The Amendment was ratified by 29 states. (Tennessee did not ratify the amendment until 1997.)

Voter Registration, Macon, Ga., Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-3fa4-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Voter Registration, Macon, Ga., Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-3fa4-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

The failure to enfranchise women caused a rift in the Women’s Suffrage Movement in which many supporters of suffrage were also abolitionists. Leading women voting rights advocates Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cade Slaton broke with the leading suffrage group as a result of Black voting rights being protected, but women were still left without the franchise.

While allowing the ex-slave the vote was a significant step in including the freedmen and women in U.S. society, the move was not altruistic. The ending of slavery meant the ending of the three-fifth clause in the Constitution. As a result, the newly freed slaves would be counted as individuals and would increase the representation of Southern states, which were more populous than Northern states as a result of the ex-slaves.

The Southerners sought to use this representation to their advantage by attempting to prevent African Americans, who overwhelmingly supported the Republican Party, from voting. White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Red Brigade and White Citizens Councils also formed following the Civil War. These terrorist groups engaged in violence and other racist tactics to intimidate African Americans, people of color, Black voters and legislators.

In a history seldom told, in North Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi hundreds of Blacks were murdered in local coup de tat’s in which White Supremacists overthrew democratically elected city governments by force. These terrorist acts to limit voting were accompanied by the Black Codes.

The Black Codes were enacted by Southern states as a means to technically re-enslave Blacks and make them a permanent caste and underclass in the U.S. The codes sought to prevent Blacks from purchasing and owning guns and land. They restricted Blacks’ movement through racist vagrancy laws in which a Black person had to have a White person vouch for them.

The Black Codes forced the former slaves to enter into exploitative, yearlong labor contracts that hindered their ability to sell their labor to the highest bidder. Under the codes, no Black person could testify in court or sue a White person.

Historically, the 1965 Voting Rights Act sought to do what the 15th Amendment was designed to accomplish, which was to assure that Black people, especially in the Southern states, could cast their ballots. Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act required states and local governments with histories of racial discrimination in voting to submit all changes to their voting laws or practices to the federal government. Once approved, they could take effect, a process called “preclearance.”

However, the Supreme Court has loosened the rules, opening the door to chicanery on the part of those who seek to limit the civil rights of Blacks and people of color. It includes proposed voter ID laws; closing polling stations, putting them out of the reach of the transit-challenged; and eliminating people from the voter rolls who have skipped an election or two.

While the right to vote by U.S. citizens has never been in question, who can vote is still being hotly contested in the U.S. as various states continually seek to find ways to prevent people from voting, especially Black and Brown people.

Black people’s political power is diminished by the fact that incarceration serves as a disqualification from the voting rolls, especially since a higher percentage are locked up by the bias inherent in the U.S. justice system. Moreover, though the first section of the 15th Amendment declared that the right to vote cannot be “denied or abridged” because of “a previous condition of servitude,” ex-prisoners are consistently denied the right to vote, a clear violation of the spirit of the amendment.

Apparently, judging from the history of Blacks and the vote, it is a right as long as they are willing to fight for it.

W.E.B. DuBois observed, “The slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.”

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PRESS ROOM: New AARP Pennsylvania Poll: Black Voters 50+ Say Social Security, Inflation, and Medicare Will Influence 2024 Vote

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “With inflation and the rising costs of living squeezing all Pennsylvania households, Black voters 50+ are clearly looking for leaders with a plan,” said Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP Pennsylvania State Director.  “Candidates would be wise to listen to their opinions and concerns if they want to win in November.”
The post PRESS ROOM: New AARP Pennsylvania Poll: Black Voters 50+ Say Social Security, Inflation, and Medicare Will Influence 2024 Vote first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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AARP Pennsylvania’s first 2024 election survey shows that candidates should pay close attention to Pennsylvanian voters ages 50 and older and highlights the priorities and concerns of Black voters ages 50 and older that will likely influence the outcome of the 2024 elections. Seventy-nine percent of Black voters in Pennsylvania are extremely motivated to vote this year. When asked about the issues that are important as they decide whom to vote for this November, older Black voters cited Social Security (92% say extremely or very important), Medicare (89%), policies to help seniors live independently at home as they age (87%), the cost of prescription drugs (86%) as key issues. Social Security and Medicare emerged as their top priority issue in their vote for Senate this year, with nearly twice as many Black voters 50+ choosing Social Security and Medicare as any of the other dozen issues tested.

“With inflation and the rising costs of living squeezing all Pennsylvania households, Black voters 50+ are looking for leaders with a plan,” said Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP Pennsylvania State Director.  “Candidates would be wise to listen to their opinions and concerns if they want to win in November.” Among Black voters 50+, President Joe Biden (D) leads former President Donald Trump (R) by a large margin: 84% to 8%. In the race for U.S. Senate, Senator Bob Casey (D) leads Dave McCormick 87% to 7%.

Other key takeaways include:

  • 96% of Black voters 50+ say they are more likely to vote for a candidate for the U.S. Senate who advocated making sure workers get the Social Security they paid for through a lifetime of hard work.
  • Four of the five issues measured as cost concerns are important to many Black voters 50+: health care/prescription drugs, utilities, food, and housing; and
  • 58% of Black voters 50+ are worried about their financial situation including 63% of women. Health care/prescription drugs and housing are the biggest cost concerns.
  • 66% of Black voters 50+ and 73% of Black voters 65+ say Social Security is or will be a major source of their income.

AARP commissioned the bipartisan polling team of Fabrizio Ward & Impact Research to conduct a survey. The firms interviewed 1,398 likely Pennsylvania voters, which includes a statewide representative sample of 600 likely voters, with an oversample of 470 likely voters aged 50 and older and an additional oversample of 328 Black likely voters aged 50 and older, between April 24-30, 2024. The interviews were conducted via landline, cellphone, and SMS-to-web. The margin of sampling error for the 600 statewide samples is ±4.0%; for the 800 total sample of voters 50+ is ±3.5%; for the 400 total sample of Black voters 50+ is ±4.9%.

View the full survey results at aarp.org/PApolling.

For more information on how, when, and where to vote in Pennsylvania, visit aarp.org/PAVotes.

The post PRESS ROOM: New AARP Pennsylvania Poll: Black Voters 50+ Say Social Security, Inflation, and Medicare Will Influence 2024 Vote first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Calif. Anti-Sex Trafficking Advocates Discuss Competing Bills, Strategies

OAKLAND POST — “It is time to send a thorough message that if you seek to buy a child for sex, you will pay the highest criminal penalties in this state,” said the Rev. Shane Harris, a San Diego-based activist, former foster youth and founder of the Peoples Association of Justice Advocates, (PAJA), a national civil rights organization and policy think tank. Harris, who was speaking at a rally at the State Capitol earlier this month, was speaking in support of Senate Bill 1414, authored by Sen. Shannon Grove (D-Bakersfield), which calls for people who buy sex from minors to be punished with a felony. The punishment includes a two-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine.
The post Calif. Anti-Sex Trafficking Advocates Discuss Competing Bills, Strategies first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Bo Tefu, California Black Media | The Oakland Post

Advocates from across California are challenging state officials and community leaders to support legislation that provides resources and services for survivors and victims of human trafficking, as well as assistance as they transition back into civil society.

Some of those advocates are also calling for more effective state policy to curtail trafficking, a crime that has an outsized impact on Black children, particularly girls.

According to the FBI, a report covering a two-year period found Black children accounted for 57% of all juvenile arrests for prostitution. In addition, 40% of sex trafficking victims were Black and 60% of those victims had been enrolled in the foster care system.

“It is time to hold the perpetrators who take advantage of our children accountable,” said the Rev. Shane Harris, a San Diego-based activist, former foster youth and founder of the Peoples Association of Justice Advocates, (PAJA), a national civil rights organization and policy think tank.

“It is time to send a thorough message that if you seek to buy a child for sex, you will pay the highest criminal penalties in this state,” added Harris who was speaking at a rally at the State Capitol earlier this month. Harris was speaking in support of Senate Bill 1414, authored by Sen. Shannon Grove (D-Bakersfield), which calls for people who buy sex from minors to be punished with a felony. The punishment includes a two-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine.

Harris said the PAJA is the only civil rights organization in the state that supports SB 1414.

Harris urged other Black-led groups who favor anti-trafficking legislation more focused on criminal justice reforms (as opposed to stiffer penalties), to “join the movement.”

Many of those civil rights groups fear that SB 1414 could lead to the incarceration of more Black youth.

Those sentiments were echoed in a panel discussion organized by Black women advocates on April 26 to examine the cause and effects of human trafficking in California’s Black communities. The virtual event was hosted by the Forgotten Children, Inc, a faith-based nonprofit that advocates for survivors and victims of human trafficking through anti-trafficking campaigns and initiatives.

Panelists shared the psychological impact of sexual exploitation on youth and children in the long term.

Author and educator Dr. Stephany Powell shared statistics and information revealing that African American women and girls are the most trafficked nationwide.

Powell, who serves as the senior advisor on law enforcement and policy at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation said that national data indicates that sex trade survivors are disproportionately women of color. She stated that male survivors often go unnoticed because boys rarely report trafficked crimes.

Powell said that decriminalizing prostitution in California could increase human trafficking. She argued that Senate Bill 357, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which was signed into law in 2022 and legalized loitering for prostitution, caused a surge in street-level prostitution.

Panelist and psychologist Dr. Gloria Morrow shared opposing views on decriminalizing prostitution. She said that decriminalizing prostitution could help survivors gain access to state resources and support.

Despite opposing views, Powell and Morrow agree that the Black community needs resources and educational programs to address human trafficking.

The post Calif. Anti-Sex Trafficking Advocates Discuss Competing Bills, Strategies first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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The TINA TURNER Musical Reveals Trials and Triumphs

THE OKLAHOMA EAGLE — The 1993 movie “What’s Love Got to Do with It” portrayed the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner as abusive before their breakup. Ike was also said to victimize Tina, as she shared in a 2018 interview with Oprah Winfrey. But Deon Releford-Lee, the actor who plays Ike in the Broadway musical, says there is more to Ike’s story than is told on screen. In preparing for the part, the Broadway actor searched for the triggers that made Ike who he was known to be.  
The post The TINA TURNER Musical Reveals Trials and Triumphs first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Kimberly Marsh | The Oklahoma Eagle

According to Tulsans who knew him and the actor who plays him in the musical Tina, The Tina Turner Musical, Ike Turner may have had multiple sides to his personality. However, the Ike Turner the public has seen is a violent man.

The arc of Tina Turner’s career is well-known. Although Ike’s story is lesser known, he had a powerful influence on Tina’s life and career. They had a family together, and he witnessed Tina rise to superstardom.

Naomi Rodgers performing ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?” as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

Naomi Rodgers performing ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?” as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

The 1993 movie, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” portrayed the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner as abusive before their breakup. Ike was also said to victimize Tina, as she shared in a 2018 interview with Oprah Winfrey. But Deon Releford-Lee, the actor who plays Ike in the Broadway musical, says there is more to Ike’s story than is told on screen. In preparing for the part, the Broadway actor searched for the triggers that made Ike who he was known to be.

Ike is part of the musical until the breakup and the start of Tina’s solo career in the second act. Because of the problematic themes of domestic violence, the musical is recommended for ages 14 and older.

Naomi Rodgers performed “Proud Mary” as Tina Turner and the cast of the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Naomi Rodgers performed “Proud Mary” as Tina Turner and the cast of the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Ike Turner 

In an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle, Releford-Lee said playing Ike Turner was a healing experience for him. While “villains” have challenging roles, Releford-Lee said it is liberating in some respects, and he embraces the challenge.

“I have a wealth of knowledge of difficult things to play. My focus is to do as much…research as possible to figure out who this human was, what happened in his path, and what maybe led him to the places to do some of the horrible things he did. Not to excuse their behavior because it’s deplorable, right? We don’t just walk around hating people, throwing them around, forcing them, and manipulating them to do things,” Releford-Lee said. He described Ike’s aggressive behavior, especially with his wife.

Channeling that aggressive hyper-masculine energy takes a toll but also frees Releford-Lee to be softer, more feminine, more free, and more in touch with his emotions off-stage. Having played many villains in the past, he said he learned to become “Okay with my ugliness because that ugliness is in all of us.”

“Ike was a Black man who wrote music and was one of the fathers of Rock ‘n’ Roll but never received the credit,” Releford-Lee said. As Tina took center stage and became the superstar she was, Ike was overlooked.

Zurin Villanueva performed as Tina Turner and Garrett Turner as Ike Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Zurin Villanueva performed as Tina Turner and Garrett Turner as Ike Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

“Those are the things that I focus on to help ground me in the (character) because being rejected for being Black, being talented, being othered, is something that I can connect to.”

Tulsa Connections 

In an article published in June 2023 following Tina’s death, The Oklahoma Eagle Editor Gary Lee reflected on the days when the Ike and Tina Revue came to Tulsa and performed at the Big Ten Ballroom. The Ike and Tina Revue was a Big Ten headliner several times in the 1960s, and they performed together until their 1976 divorce.

Tulsa musician and radio personality Bobby Eaton Jr. knew them both and witnessed much of what was happening around them on the road. Eaton recently held a launch party for his new band, Eaton Out.  During the performance, he recounted working with Ike and Tina Turner as the youngest guy in the band. Eaton said he appreciated Ike as a band leader, a musician/composer, and a businessman who showed him the ropes in the industry. But Eaton acknowledged that the relationship was not easy.

“Tina was there, and a lot of fights and a lot of crazy stuff went on back in those days, but at the same, I couldn’t wait to get away because they had too much drama going on.”

Singer Michelle Love, a/k/a Sweet Randi Love, became an Ikette in 1993 and knew him during the last decade of his life when he revived his career as a frontman. She joined the band despite being familiar with the tumultuous relationship Tina described.

“We were more like a family unit. When it came to work, though, he was a real hard ass. I don’t want to say it like that. But you know what I mean? He was serious when it came to work. As far as that goes, he didn’t play any games because he was like, this is me on stage, and it represents me.

“After the Tina stuff, Ike was self-conscious…about every little thing that he did because he had already gotten kind of a bad rap behind the movie. So, he was a real stickler as far as that goes,” Love said, “But when it was time for everybody to go home and we were calming down, Ike was just a big old teddy bear. Honestly, he was really. I think a lot of what he went through, you know, in the past team as well, had a lot to do with his insecurities. During the Jim Crow days, he went through quite a bit. So, there’s a lot that people don’t know about him. As far as his background story goes, I’m not trying to take away from Tina’s background story because she has a story to tell, but it might explain why he was the way he was.”

Ike was released from prison in 1991 after serving 18 months for drug offenses. Cocaine was his drug of choice, and it flowed freely, in large quantities, around him. Ike’s drug addiction relapse in 2004 led to his drug overdose in 2007.

Love has returned to Tulsa and continues to sing and perform with Sweet Randi Love and The Love Thang band.

About Deon Releford-Lee 

Releford-Lee attended Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, an HBCU. At the university, he studied dance and theater. He began working professionally when he was still not old enough to play certain roles, portraying more mature characters. Although getting attention was difficult, he worked his way from ensemble to lead roles. A move to New York City followed, leading to his current role as Ike.

Deon Releford-Lee plays Ike Turner in the TPAC production TINA: The Tina Turner Musical.

Releford-Lee plays Ike full-time every night but has two understudy actors for this incredibly physical and emotional role.  A self-described Bohemian, Releford-Lee’s personality is very different from Ike’s, and he is shocked when audience members have no idea who he is when the cast goes out to greet them.

Following a night onstage, he does breathwork to unwind and get out of character, which can take about 15 minutes to exit.

“I realized that when I’m feeling anxious, it’s mostly because physically I’m not breathing at all. I’m holding my breath, so I’m just reminding myself to breathe. I’m someone who doesn’t leave the theater right away. I just kind of sit there for a bit, take off my costume, take off my wig, put my jewelry on, put my own clothes back on, and just kind of sit and listen to music, and then move on.”

Releford-Lee said people will learn a little more through Ike’s backstory, how the industry treated him, and why he was the way he was.

“And in the same breath, you’re also seeing him being manipulative and hurtful. And the audience is kind of on his side in one second, and then the very next second, betrayed by him.

“I love the moment where Tina and Ike first meet because you see them laughing, you see them enjoying each other. It’s one of the only times of fun between them. And I think that’s beautiful. I love watching Tina discover herself in the second act.”

Celebrity Attractions describes “Tina-The Tina Turner Musical” as the inspiring journey of a woman who broke barriers and became the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. “Set to the pulse-pounding soundtrack of her most beloved hits, this electrifying sensation will send you soaring to the rafters.” Tina Turner won 12 Grammy Awards and her live shows were seen by millions, with more concert tickets sold than any other solo performer in music history. Featuring her songs, “Tina–The Tina Turner Musical” is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall and directed by the internationally acclaimed Phyllida Lloyd.  

The post The TINA TURNER Musical Reveals Trials and Triumphs first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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