Fly Away, Jim Crow

Hell knows no greater fury than a Georgia cracker’s scorn and that is the basis of a new piece of southern legal legerdemain, being referred to by opponents as “Jim Crow 2.0,” that will require people in all-black districts who want to register to vote, to first recite each of the four volumes of Robert Caro’s tome about the life of Lyndon B. Johnson, totaling more than 3,000 pages, in 46 seconds.

The new legislation, which is not racist in content, coincidentally also requires all people of color to pay a poll tax equivalent to 2.5 times their annual salaries, in order to register to vote, and money cards are not accepted but only cash.

Anyone who meets these two criteria must move on to chapter 9, subsection 34, which requires all people of color who are potential voters to speak at least three foreign languages, not including English, backwards.

And finally, it will be illegal to offer any food or water to anyone on line to vote, no matter how intensely hot the Georgia sun may be and no matter how long the lines of perspiring, weary African Americans, many on the brink of feinting, going to the polls.

OK, so I exaggerated a tad in everything but the part about no food and water for voters in line. That is included in “Jim Crow 2.0,” a new obscene Georgia law that was crafted to make it harder to vote for the state’s Democrats, coincidentally who include many African Americans.

The truth is that there were once strict literacy and poll tax requirements, known as Jim Crow laws, until they were struck down by federal laws not that many years ago. The late civil rights icon, Rep. John L. Lewis, R-Ga., must surely be turning in his grave with the latest attempts to revive Jim Crow.

President Joe Biden won in Georgia in November as did Democratic Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and that was more than any red-blooded Georgia cracker would accept. The Republican dominated, Georgia Legislature this week approved a new law that will largely keep people of color from voting, ostensibly to avoid alleged widespread voter fraud of the type that resulted in Biden’s victory and a defeat of Trump ALA “Agent Orange.”

The same people who told you that pedophile Democrats eat babies were in the forefront of “Stop the Steal,” the movement by those faux patriots to keep “Agent Orange” in office. The movement flopped because there was no big voter fraud but the same nuts who brought you “Stop the Steal” are busy as buzzards in Georgia enacting new, pernicious methods to make it altogether too hard for the state’s African American residents to vote and to make it that much easier for the white supremacists to take control, or rather, maintain control.

And let’s not forget that this is the state that brought you Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, the quack who was elected to Congress this year and who is an adherent to the QAnon wacko universe. Georgia was one of the strongest slave-holding states prior to the Civil War, but it also was the birthplace of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If you want to make your typical Georgia cracker cringe, just mention the name of Stacey Abrams, the voting rights activist who is African American. Of course, black voters in Georgia never had it easy to exercise their constitutional right as recently as 2018, when voters in many largely black neighborhoods waited on lines for hours and thousands of Black voters were purged from the voting rolls before the election.

The new Georgia law has new identification requirements for those who vote by mail and that covers the 200,000 voters, including many African Americans, who don’t have a driver’s license or state ID number; it limits voting drop boxes, which are crucial for people who have no way to get to polling places; gives more oversight to county election boards, who coincidentally are appointed by Republicans and who can do a lot to keep people from voting; restricts who can vote with provisional ballots; and yes, makes it a crime to offer food or water to voters in line.

Make no mistake, this is the latest volley in a national proto-Trumpian strategy to overhaul the election system in favor of right wing Republicans. The fine state of Iowa passed a similar law and plans are afoot to do it in those bastions of patriotism, Arizona, Florida and Texas.

Jim Crow refers to a system that dominated in the south and emerged after the Civil War to prevent African Americans from exercising their rights as Americans, including voting. The system was theoretically outlawed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which barred poll taxes and literacy tests while segregation in public accommodations was prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jim Crow was named after Thomas Rice, a white man who gained popularity for performing songs and dancing in blackface, inspired by a slave that Rice once saw. Rice called his act “Jump, Jim Crow” and the phrase that ridiculed African Americans caught on later to label a series of written and unwritten laws created to keep black people down.

A key ingredient of Jim Crow was the poll tax, which required payment in order to register to vote in a number of states until 1965. The poll tax law often included a grandfather clause, which allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted in a specific year prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax. That requirement effectively disenfranchised all African American and Native American voters.

If it were not so serious, the Jim Crow literacy tests would simply be laughably absurd. For example, in Alabama, applicants had to read aloud a portion of the Alabama constitution. White voter candidates had to read this passage: “SECTION 20: That no person shall be imprisoned for debt.”

Blacks were a different story and applicants had to read out loud and then interpret, “SECTION 260: The income arising from the sixteenth section trust fund, the surplus revenue fund, until it is called for by the United States government, and the funds enumerated in sections 257 and 258 of this Constitution, together with a special annual tax of thirty cents on each one hundred dollars of taxable property in this state, which the legislature shall levy, shall be applied to the support and maintenance of the public schools, and it shall be the duty of the legislature to increase the public school fund from time to time as the necessity therefor and the condition of the treasury and the resources of the state may justify; provided, that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to authorize the legislature to levy in any one year a greater rate of state taxation for all purposes, including schools, than sixty-five cents on each one hundred dollars’ worth of taxable property; and provided further, that nothing herein contained shall prevent the legislature from first providing for the payment of the bonded indebtedness of the state and interest thereon out of all the revenue of the state.”

Most states and counties also gave difficult and confusing written tests. In most, a black offering one wrong answer failed. Most white applicants would usually pass regardless of the answers they gave.

One 1964 literacy test administered in Louisiana, was designed to trip up candidates with convoluted phrasing. There were 30 confusing questions, and the entire test had to be completed in just 10 minutes. One question: “Spell backwards, forwards.” If the applicant wrote “backwards” he was wrong as he should have written “backwards,” with the comma included.

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer