Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), the chairmen of the Congressional Black Caucus, issued a powerful challenge to black voters on Thursday, saying that eligible African Americans who choose not to vote “ought to give us their color back.” The comments came during Cleaver’s address at a CBC forum on voting rights, criticizing an apparent lack of respect from black voters who opt not to exercise their right.
“That’s an insult to the ancestors and the people who brought us to where we are right now,” the congressman said. “There’d be no Black Caucus but for the black men and women who fought and died that we might have an opportunity to gather here in Washington that there would be 42 members of the Congressional Black Caucus.”
Cleaver cited the history of Jim Crow laws in the South that worked to prevent blacks from voting, with policies ranging from grandfather clauses to literacy tests. “It says: Before you can vote, you must recite the Constitution,” Cleaver said. “And of course nobody’s going to be able to recite the Constitution, so they can’t—they’re then rendered to be too illiterate to vote.”
Cleaver’s address coincides with the implementation of new voter ID laws that have been referred to as a modern method of voter restriction by civil rights groups. The new laws have been adopted by several states including Pennsylvania and Georgia, and require citizens to have specific forms of photo identification in order to cast their vote.
Civil rights activists contend that poor lower class voters, specifically minorities, will be alienated by the law. A coalition of black women marched on Washington Friday, demonstrating outside of the CBC Foundations conference. Celebrating the political and financial power of black women is one of the conference’s focuses, and the event will wrap up on Saturday, with a keynote speech from first lady Michelle Obama.