A Vital Book on Voting Rights

Voters at the voting booths in 1945
Voters at the voting booths in 1945 credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. C. Christopher Brown, Esq. recently wrote a book called “The Road to Jim Crow.

The book examines the African-American struggle on Maryland’s Eastern Shore from 1860 to 1915. It is a book I highly recommend, particularly for those interested in history.

“Chris”, as he is called by his friends, has an interesting connection with the City of Annapolis. I first met Chris in the 1980s, when Maryland’s Attorney General was Stephen H. Sachs. The United States Congress had renewed, amended and strengthened the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This law was designed to guarantee that the voting rights of African-Americans would not be hampered by various machinations by racist governmental actions.

In the past, the Maryland General Assembly in 1909 disenfranchised black voters with what was called the “grandfather clause.” The law simply stated that if your grandfather could not vote, neither could you, which led to many African-American voters being disenfranchised. It took a lawsuit in 1909 and the United States Supreme Court in 1915 to strike down this law as unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, many local Maryland governments implemented various schemes to deprive blacks of the right to vote.

When I met Chris, he pointed out that in the City of Annapolis, with its then 35% black population, should have more than just one African-American serving on the Annapolis City Council.

Elizamae Robinson and I brought a Voting Rights lawsuit against the City of Annapolis and we won. I ran for City Council and won. During my 12 year tenure on the Annapolis City Council, I did everything I could to make sure that the “rights” of women, religious minorities and black people were respected and protected.

Today, there are three African-Americans serving on the City Council. This historic number came as a result of the work of Chris Brown and the ACLU, of which many are unaware.

At the time, Chris Brown was the president and general counsel of the ACLU. We joined forces and literally brought similar lawsuits in Dorchester County, Salisbury, Easton, Cheverly, Hurlock and other municipalities and counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. These lawsuits literally changed the complexion of elected officials on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It resulted in blacks being elected to the Dorchester County Orphan’s Court, Easton Town Council, Hurlock Town Council, etc.

“The Road to Jim Crow” is a book that clearly shows how government was used to deny people the right to vote. In many of the jurisdictions where we brought a lawsuit, there had never been a black serving in those jurisdictions.

Candidates running for office this year in the City of Annapolis and in 2018, should read this book. They will have a better understanding on how government works. It is amazing to me how so few elected officials have a sense of history and how so few have taken the time to learn the history of politics in this nation.

The next time you run into a politician who is serving as an elected official, ask him or her these following questions:

1. How many black millionaires are in the jurisdiction that they represent?

2. How many black elected officials exist in their state?

3. When is the last time that black elected officials, regardless of their position or party, met in their state to develop an agenda for their constituents?

You will soon discover why it is important that elected officials and activists read “The Road to Jim Crow”. If you don’t know where you’ve been, you won’t know where you are, and more importantly, where you going.

Dropping the microphone!

Information is power. No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interest.

A Luta Continua!

Carl Snowden is a political and civil rights leader in Annapolis. 

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Carl Snowden and Associates were founded in 1985. It is a private consultant firm that specializes in addressing bias and institutional racism. Its founder Carl Snowden and the company have been featured in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the Baltimore Sun. The company working with the ACLU in Maryland have won cases involving voting rights, employment discrimination and sexual harassment.