America’s “history of classism” still prioritizes the votes of white people, a UT professor said during an on-campus panel Thursday.
During a panel held two days after Texas’ constitutional amendment election, history scholars discussed present-day voting issues, the historical fight for minorities’ suffrage and how that affects modern-day democracy. Around 50 people came to hear the panelists speak at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center.
The United States introduced the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to extend suffrage to people of color after the Civil War and to women in the early 20th century. Despite these amendments, panelist Lisa Tetrault said states continued to discriminate against marginalized communities by enacting literacy and government knowledge tests for decades.
“Who can vote depends largely on what state you live in,” said Tetrault, associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University. “That was true at the (nation’s) founding, and that remains true today.”
Leonard Moore, a history professor and panelist, said 1970s black America felt unrepresented by the Democratic party because Democratic policies did not serve to protect black issues.
Moore said black Americans convened for the National Black Political Convention in 1972 to address politics that reflected their concerns and increase the representation of black politicians. He said there is an ongoing debate of the convention’s success but that the 2008 elections proved its success.
“Some would argue that the election of Barack Hussein Obama is an extension of the Black Political Convention,” Moore said.
History professor Jeremi Suri said elections traditionally fall on Tuesday in an attempt to exclude low income and middle class working Americans and people of color.
“We have historically been a society where certain votes count more than others,” Suri said.
Tetrault and Suri said most Americans are unaware that there is no constitutional guarantee for the right the vote, because the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments outlaw voter-based discrimination instead of granting suffrage to people who have historically been discriminated against. The two panelists said this further emphasizes marginalization.
A century after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Tetrault said the U.S. is still seeing vote suppression with the closure of polling places in minority neighborhoods and increasing voter identification requirements. However, she said 1920 isn’t the end of the story for voting rights.
“We’ve been handed the beginning, and we get to decide how we handle it next,” Tetrault said.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct a spelling error in Barack Hussein Obama's name. The Texan regrets this error.