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30 June 2015 LILLIAN’S RIGHT TO VOTE: A CELEBRATION OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965 by Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans, ill., Random House/Schwartz & Wade, July 2015, 40p., ISBN: 978-0-385-39028-6


“Lillian pauses to catch her breath, hearing now the voice of her uncle Levi. He is telling about those ‘tests’ that her was forced to take when he tried to vote, and about the sneer on the registrar’s face when he asked, ‘How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?’ Her uncle’s lips go tight as he recalls being asked to ‘name all sixty-seven judges in the state of Alabama’--and being turned away when he failed to answer such questions.”


“The District Court found [Texas] Senate Bill 14 irreconcilable with §2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it was enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and would yield a prohibited discriminatory result. The District Court emphasized the ‘virtually unchallenged’ evidence that Senate Bill 14 ‘bear[s] more heavily on’ minority voters….In light of the ‘seismic demographic shift’ in Texas between 2000 and 2010, making Texas a ‘majority-minority state,’ the District Court observed that the Texas Legislature and Governor had an evident incentive to ‘gain partisan advantage by suppressing’ the ‘votes of African-Americans and Latinos.’”

-- from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in Veasey v. Perry (2014)


LILLIAN’S RIGHT TO VOTE is a picture book celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The title character is a 100-year-old descendant of slaves who is on her way to vote. As she makes her way up the steep hill leading to her polling place, she recalls the metaphorical mountain that her family members faced in their desire to vote.


The vote is a powerful tool for change, and those with power rarely give it up without a fight. As Lillian recounts the struggle of her ancestors to participate in the democratic process, we are presented the history of inequality in America: Lillian’s great-grandparents and grandfather were slaves. After the war that ended slavery, ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment promised all black Americans the right to vote. But we come to see how it took another 95 years for this promise to come to fruition.


Lillian remembers the poll tax that her grandfather couldn’t pay, the tax designed to disenfranchise black voters. She remembers, as a little girl, accompanying her parents as they are confronted by an angry mob for daring to try to vote. She recalls the cross burned on the lawn of her girlhood home. She tells us how, when she grew up, she was kept from voting by having to pass an impossible “test.”


Lillian speaks of Jimmy Lee Johnson, the young black civil rights activist who was beaten and shot to death by Alabama state troopers in 1965 for daring to participate in a peaceful voting rights march. She recounts the subsequent protest march from Selma to Montgomery and tells of participants John Lewis and Reverend King. She recalls President Johnson signing the bill that would finally--finally--give her the right to vote.


Doing the math, if she’s 100 now, we can figure Lillian was fifty when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 permitted her to vote for the first time.


“A Frontline analysis of voting laws nationwide found that only six of the 31 states that require ID at the polls apply those standards to absentee voters, who are generally whiter and older than in-person voters.”

--from “Why Voter ID Laws Aren’t Really about Fraud” (2014)


In his Author’s Note, Jonah Winter makes it clear that the struggle for voting rights continues today. A 2013 Supreme Court decision “struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, eliminating federal oversight of states’ election processes.” This has led to the enactment by many states of voter ID laws that disproportionately impact the poor and the elderly. Not surprisingly, the same southern states whose behavior led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have all passed restrictive voter ID laws that, as Justice Ginsburg noted, have been enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose.


The story is told with gravity and a cadence that draws in the reader and makes us want to continue up the hill with Lillian. This complex story is told simply and focuses on the essentials, describing so much in so few words. Shane W. Evans’s stunning mixed media illustrations vividly depict Lillian and her memories of those troubled times leading to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


LILLIAN’S RIGHT TO VOTE presents the struggles others have endured in order that all Americans have the to vote. Why is voting such a big deal? We need only look back to the past week’s historic Supreme Court decisions to see how and why the political process affects all of us.


Participate in changing things for the better. Be a good role model for young people. Vote!


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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