In Black America; Voter Registration and Education (NAACP)
Good luck. In Black America, reflections of the Black experience in American society. In 1982, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People set goals through its voter education department to organize a political action network by creating branches of the association whose chief function was to find unregistered eligible voters, get them registered, and get them to the polls. This successful effort resulted in the addition of 850,000 newly registered voters by the end of 1982.
Because of the 1982 drive, the stage has been set for the 1984 election year. And local NAACP chapters are now organizing renewed voter registration efforts in 20 states. I'm John Hansen, and this week I focus on voter registration and education with WC Pat and retired director and Joseph Madison, current director of the NAACP's voter education department, Joe Madison. Basically, we wanted to find a way to extend our Southern voter registration effort into the north. If you had been in the Region 5 workshop yesterday, you would have been as amazed as I was at the number of voter registration activities that are going on by the various branches. If 50% of the unregistered voters, in fact, black unregistered voters exist in the south, voter registration oftentimes is looked upon as a soft subject, and is nothing soft about what we're about to do on this 360-mile march we're going to take. So we wanted to find a way to extend our voter registration drive from the south to the
north, simply because there is a great deal of voter apathy among northern blacks. And the fact is that the gap between white voter participation in the north has widened since the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act from the blacks. The actual gap is widened in the north and decreased in the south. So our fall offensive is going to be an extension. What we're going to do, happen hour, or immediately after this news conference, is we're going over to the youth and address them and actually recruit 13 young people who will be the core group of the marchers. These 13 young people will all represent each of southern state, including Texas and Oklahoma. The 13 will convene in Louisville, Kentucky on August 12th. That weekend, Julian Bond, John Lewis, and Dick Gregory will, in fact, provide briefing and training sessions for the 13 marchers that will then go on the 14th of August to the
Ohio Bridge and from the Kentucky side, we're going to march within ACT officials and members from around the country across the Ohio Bridge into Ohio, where we will hold a rally in which we will symbolically carry a coffin bearing voter apathy. At that time, we will have a rally, establish workshops, do voter registration in Cincinnati, move on then to Dayton, Ohio, spend two days in Dayton, similar activities in Cincinnati, workshop registration, then on to Piqua, Sydney, Lima, Toledo, and on the weekend of Labor Day, we will end in Detroit, Michigan where there will be a major rally in which branch presidents from all over the NACP system will report the number of registered voters that they have registered in reference to this kickoff and will also establish the goals.
It is approximately a 360-mile march. It is the first time that a major march has gone through the north. Joseph Madison, director of the NACP Voter Education Department, headed the 1982 Task Force on Political Action, along with the directors of the NACP Legal Department, its Washington Bureau, Public Relations, Education, and the Youth Branch Divisions. Together, they designed a system where about local chapters could monitor their area redist screen, reapportionment plans, and distribute information about the voting records of their elected officials. Additionally, they could designate local high school principals as deputy registrars and organize the presentation of voter registration cards at high school graduation ceremonies. The efforts of this nationwide campaign were seen drastically on election day. On November 2, 1982, Black voter and historically large numbers, electing all-time high 21 Black members to Congress, the highest number since 1970.
Seventeen additional Black State legislators were elected, and the Black votes provide the necessary margin for successful, gubernatorial candidates in Michigan, Texas, New York, and Illinois. Voting is now a second religion at the NACP. I spoke briefly with Joseph Madison, current director of the Voter Education Department of the NACP, as well as W.C. Patton, retired director. I've been in this membership since 1928, when I was in high school, and at that time membership was only 50 cents a year. And I've been a member of it, and I've been active in it since 1945, very active since 1945. After I quit teaching school, I became an Austin, our local branch in Birmingham, and then find that a president of the local branch there, then state president of the NACP in Alabama. And I went from that to working on, as a field director for them, a rather executive secretary
in Alabama. When we were in joint, I started going around over the country conducted membership campaign. I moved from membership campaigns to associate director of vote education, and I stayed there until I retired in 1979. Why was there a need for the NACP and why is there a continued need for the organization? I think the need for the NACP and the continued need for the organization. I think the answer is in what Hambone said once, that a man that is born of a dog woman in a few days and full of trouble. And I don't think that he was lying about that. And as long as we've got pigment in our skin, that's going to be a need for an ACP. Because of the fact that racism will, for years and years to come, will still be here. And we've got to have some organization that can address the issues of discrimination,
et cetera, that blacks are going to be plagued with. What are some of the obstacles that you had to overcome first starting out as a membership register and then going to voter registration? Well, you know, back in the days when I started out there, it was difficult to be a part of an ACP. There have been times when I've been in communities that I had to leave ahead of time, the clans and et cetera at that time, the white citizen council. And it was difficult for us to, it was something that you would be afraid of. But nevertheless, anything that you're not worth dying for, not worth living for. When you started out a membership in the voter registration, today there's voter apathy. Was it voter apathy back in the 20s and 30s?
It was not voter apathy and it's not voter apathy now. It's not that. I always shut it when I hear people use that time. It's a matter of liking to equate the ballot with your bacon and eggs or your bread and butter, your job, et cetera. And until we learn to equate those, we still will be in trouble. How does voter registration affect your job? Many people don't know. It isn't a matter of apathy, it's a matter of being able to relate the bacon and egg with the ballot. The NAACP is slowly moving from his original thought of legislation for black Americans to civil and human rights towards more economic and political power. You think that move is now the time for it? Why sure. It has always been concerned about economics, but we concentrate on it more now that we have in times pair and political power.
We've always been interested in that, but we are emphasizing that more than we have in the pair, because people are becoming more educated on the value of the dollar, the need for the dollar, and the value of the ballot, see? So you've got to have that. In your opinion, what are some of the greatest achievements that the NAACP has accomplished in its 74 years? All of these decisions that they've gotten from the Supreme Court, all of these changes that they've made as a result of the ballot, all of the changes that have been come about as a result of knowing where to spend your money, putting it in a proper place, and spending the way that you can get some return from it, not only in terms of goods, but services and employment. All those things, all of them, you can say what you want to.
The NAACP has been, is the father on the grandfather of the civil rights movement, and you can't take that away from it, no matter what comes on, might come on behind, but it was the NAACP who inspired, and the cause of the other these other organizations to come in existence. They have done a good job, some of them, and some of them come about because of selfish ideas and this sort of thing, and when they've got those kinds of folks out of the leadership, they are moving in the right direction, but the NAACP will stand out there with record as long as time lasts. I was going to ask you that, do you think the NAACP, the Urban League, and Operation Push will ever become obsolete? Never will, never will, as long as you got black folks, and you got white folks, as long as you have racism in this country, and you will forever have them, you're going to need
the NAACP. In your opinion, you think our young black Americans are still interested in enjoying the NAACP? You know, not as much as they used to, because they feel they've already reached the promised land. They don't know what the struggle was back there. They don't know anything about it. When you start talking about riding the back of the bus, they look at you right funny. When they talk about you had to go to the back of the restaurant, so you couldn't eat in the restaurants at all, they look at you funny, they don't believe it, they ask you the question. You really mean that? That you couldn't stop in the motel, in the hotel along the way, with your family. They don't know what it's all about. So because they do not know what it's all about, because the pressure is not as great on them as it was on us back there, they cannot appreciate the things that they really are enjoying at this time. Your opinion on a black running for the presidency in 1984?
In my years of experience, I know campaigns where they've had it that white people paid black folks to run in order to split black votes to keep a black candidate from getting in there. I've known campaigns where Negroes moved in to actually honest, he was in honesty about it. He thought he probably had a possible chance, but he really, he didn't, and he failed at it. I know others who went in there simply because they figured there was some money, and some of them were in business, they were invited for that business, and some of them moved in it because of strategy. Now, some of the folks that are running around talking about the black running, the black running, I have questions about really what their motives are, and so far as they're
concerned, I join a company with those who say that it might not be for the best interest of this country for the next four years, for black out there attempting to run, unless they plan to use it in order to bring the other candidates, the white candidates, in line with what blacks ought to have. Two part question, does it make a difference who's in a white house and your opinion in life? Who has been the best president for black Americans up to now? Well, I don't know, you have several of them have done an outstanding job, and I don't know if you, in the language of the old folks that used to say you put them all in a sack and turned it upside down, I don't know which one would hit the ground for you. So you've got several persons who have done an outstanding job, and you've got to remember that they had to do it within the framework, and some of them, what America, what white
America would permit at that particular time? What are some of the arasments that blacks in the 30s and 40s had to overcome in registering the vote and in voting? Well, you take, he was brainwashed by white folks to say that, that's white folks' business, that's dirty, you don't want to be involved, I wouldn't fool with it. Plus the fact that you had all kinds of barriers set up to become registered voters, and as I said a minute ago, you have got to be able to relate to the ballot with your bacon and egg. So they were brainwashed, made to believe that, and I could sit you in ten-year, incident after incident, where pressure was put on, economic pressure, and the other pressure was put on those who did have the courage to attempt to register in vote. Did you ever have your life threatened?
I've had to get out of town here at the time, in several instances, I had to leave town here at the time, so I'd have my phone unlisted, and all that sort of thing, I've got no kind of threatening color, but anything that isn't worth dying for, isn't worth living for. W.C. Patton, retired director of the Voter Education Department of the NAACP. I also spoke with Joseph Madison, current director of the Voter Education Department of the NAACP, and asked the importance of blacks registering to vote for the 84 election. Well, very simple, and that is to defeat and eliminate, get rid of the Reagan-style government that has very candidly turned back civil rights and advancements of social programs over the past 30 years, it's just that simple. He, he being Ronald Reagan, is the main catalyst to all the activities surrounding voter registration. What is the effort the NAACP is trying to do to get more blacks to register? Well, we have three basic programs.
One is that we're doing block-by-block grassroots organizing where we're actually recruiting voter registration or political action captains in key districts. Second, we're working with passing legislation, particularly in the state of Texas, we're interested in getting legislation that would authorize high school principals to be deputy registrars. This is for the purposes of registering 18-year-olds when they graduate from high school. We actually have some high schools in many of our cities distributing voter registration cards at graduation ceremonies along with the diploma. And the third, which is a unique voter drive and has been very successful for us, is that we're registering people on cheese lines, welfare offices, unemployment offices, food stamp lines, and in places like Fort Worth, Houston, Dallas, we are finding that we're getting a tremendous number of unregistered voters who, in fact, are in lines getting cheese instead of jobs.
Those are our three primary principal programs. I don't know how many times since I've been the voter education director that I've had Northern Black folk ask me, why don't we march like they do in the South? So now we finally come to that point. These young people will all represent, as I said, Southern states symbolically, we are taking what is known as the Underground Railroad. That's why we dubbed it the Overground Railroad. The sons of former slaves and grandsons of former slaves and slave owners, for that matter because whites will, in fact, join us on the march. We'll march the trail that once their forefathers march, the key to this is that we are going to establish not only voter registration, but we're going to establish an organization that will be left behind and active throughout the remaining year and into 1984. That is basically the background and the details of the march.
Section 3 will be the primary region that will be participating, but we will have branches from around the Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan area meeting the marches and joining us at various spots along the route. We will sleep in churches and people's homes. We will be fed by NACP members, and I guess what I'm trying to say to you is that we're trying to establish and show you that we have a system. We've got a network. We've got an organization and within four weeks we're going to back and pull this entire thing together and it will probably be the largest voter registration kickoff in the history of the NACP. So with that out, be glad to answer any questions that you might have. Is there still a problem with Black voter apathy in America? Yes, there's a problem, but I must say to you very honestly that Ronald Reagan has shaken that apathy. It's the old Plato theory of politics that if you ever wanted to feed apathy, you do one or two things.
You either give the people an incentive or else you find a devil and you expose the devil to the people and they will rise up and take care of that devil. Well Reagan has been exposed as a devil, as evil towards the Black community and for whites for that matter. And they're rising up, taking care of him, just this past week at our NACP convention. We had a voter registration parade where we buried voter apathy. People came out of the woodworks and we had young people, 16, 15 year olds who couldn't vote who were talking about, we're going to vote Reagan out of office. So they now understand the importance of that. So the apathy is narrowing. Speaking of the rally they had here at the NAAC convention, will there be similar rallies across the country up to 84? Well, what's going to happen in August 14th? I'm going to lead a group of young NAC peers, actually 13 of them, across the north, where we're going to start in Kentucky, across the Mason Dixie line and end up in Detroit
on Labor Day and that'll be a 360 mile march highlighting our voter registration drive that is going to be extended from the south into the north. An end Detroit on Labor Day branches from all over the country will have similar parades and report their activities to us in this final mass rally that we'll have at Reverend Hooks' Church. That will kick off our 83, 84 drive and unite the south with the north. They're protected number in which the NAACP is trying to register for the 84 election. There are about 7 million unregistered black voters in this country right now. We have established a goal of 25 percent of those 7 million, 8 million unregistered voters. In each of the congressional districts that we've targeted, some 110 of them, if we can get 25 percent registered and then turn out 90 percent of all the registered black voters in the country, we think then that we stand a chance in succeeding at our goal.
Is this still a problem for blacks to register to vote? No taxes, different area redistricting, what have you? Well the old Jim Crow methods that were once used of redistricting of counting how many bubbles were in a bar of soap like in Texas used to be before 1949, the white primaries. It's changed. It's a little bit more sophisticated. I refer to it as Jim Crow under glass. So instead of having poll taxes, what do you have is redistricting annexation of cities to reduce the black population. In Mississippi, some people have to register in both the county and the city and that is almost a 90-mile round trip for a lot of poor people who don't have transportation period. I'll just dealt with the case in Louisiana, we're reviewing a case where in some parishes where there are black candidates for sheriff, there are at least two that we aware of. You have whites who are on the voting rows who don't even live in the parish in an attempt
to try to pack or stack the voting rows. So there are all kinds of sophisticated methods used. One of the classics is where voter registration offices are open only during working hours from eight to five when people are working and therefore they can't register New Orleans where we are. You can't register on a Sunday so therefore you can't register in churches. On and on and on. One final question, a lot of people are talking about the availability of a black presidential candidacy in 1984, your particular opinion. Well my opinion is that the only reason that a black candidate is even being considered is the fact that you probably have six of the dollars, uncrismatic, unattractive, white men that the Democratic Party could probably put forth. They're not saying anything new, they're certainly aren't saying anything poor people and working people want to hear. And I would think that a black candidate is getting a lot, particularly Jesse Jackson is getting a great deal of attention because he's providing the only color and excitement in this very long presidential campaign and it's a very sad commentary.
But again, the viability of a black candidate is both symbolic but it's also a very pragmatic situation and pragmatically speaking, the numbers aren't there to elect a president. And therefore, we've got to be very careful because if we hurt the chances of defeating the Reagan style of government, then we could even get a far more reactionary conservative president and Reagan could become far more reactionary and conservative and totally write us all. Joseph Madison, current director of the Voter Education Department of the NAACP. If you have a comment or like to purchase a cassette copy of this program, write us. The address is in Black America, Longhorn Radio Network, Austin, Texas, 78712. For in Black America's technical producer Walter Morgan, I'm John Hanson, Johnist next week.
You've been listening to in Black America, Reflections of the Black Experience in American Society. In Black America is produced and distributed by the Center for Telecommunication Services at UT Austin and does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Texas at Austin or the station. This is the Longhorn Radio Network.
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