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BRYANT: Still barring the polling-place door

- - Wednesday, October 2, 2013

During my 57 years, I have gone from being called colored (in polite company), Negro and black to African-American. I have found that the evolution in name for the descendants of former slaves has not renewed the mindset of people who truly were once victims of gross injustice.

I was nine years of age when a great-uncle of mine went to vote in my native Louisiana and was denied the right to vote because he did not know how many counties were in Texas. These voting precincts were all Democrat-controlled and routinely discriminated against blacks, Italians and in some areas, Catholics. That was the reality in 1965 in the South. I was there, and I lived it. The price my father, mother and others paid for my rights today still evoke strong emotions because many did not live to see the overwhelming victory their sacrifice has won.

Their legacy, however, is being hijacked by the same type of Democrats today that stood in the way of citizens decades ago. I saw a prime example during a recent trip to Colorado to address the Steamboat Institute. The Supreme Court had recently struck down the "pre-clearance" requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This provision discriminates against Southern states by requiring Department of Justice approval for any change in election procedure — even moving a polling place from a firehouse to a library.

Why was this provision stricken? Because it could only be justified by incidents of discrimination, like that against my great-uncle, that were wiped out almost 50 years ago. Nevertheless, Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, said the South must continue to ask Washington, "Mother, may I?" in even the most minor election matters — despite all our victories, which virtually eradicated voter discrimination decades ago.

Democrats such as Mr. Udall and Al Sharpton would like to keep open forever an American wound that has been slow to heal because it has served the purpose of keeping a certain voting bloc uninformed, underemployed and captive for more than 40 years. The truth is, black folks were angry 50 years ago and are still angry today about the same things. Why? There is one common denominator — the leadership they have chosen to vote for. It is time to try something different.

Make no mistake. People like Mr. Udall have a job to do, and that is to be modern-day overseers making sure minorities get to the polls — not to pick cotton, but to get their vote picked. This is why in his appeals for the reinstatement of the obsolete pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act, he employs the pain of the past to make his tired and worn-out point. It's a tactic that I and other black conservatives are exposing for the lie that it is. I defy anyone to point to one activity in today's America that would be hindered owing to a citizen's skin color or race. Our nation has proved to be the greatest success story the world has ever known.

Yet people such as Mr. Udall and black liberals keep the victimhood mentality alive in order to utilize fear of ghosts in white sheets to secure a new generation of voters dependent on the failed policies of the Great Society. Lyndon Johnson as a senator, by the way, voted against the 1957 civil rights bill along with John F. Kennedy — a bill that was backed by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower.

It is time now to wake up and understand that the endgame here is to keep in place a system that in these modern times will work against the rights that legal residents won in the 1950s and '60s only to be given to those who are not. The Voting Rights Act served its purpose by giving my great uncle and millions like him the dignity of one man, one vote. We must not allow Mr. Udall and his ilk to pervert what that right meant to those brave Americans.

In my 2013 documentary film "Runaway Slave," viewers watched as a slave gathered the courage to say to his masters, "I don't want your food, I don't want your shelter, I just want the personal responsibility of my own freedom." The Mayflower Pilgrims had the same courage, and we can find it in the DNA of every true American who thirsts for liberty and freedom.

The Rev. C.L. Bryant is an ordained Baptist minister from Shreveport, La.