On Nov 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in the White House that made the third Monday of January a federal holiday in order to observe and honor Martin Luther King Jr. MLK, Jr. worked alongside many civil rights leaders to secure and redefine the meaning of citizenship for African-Americans during the 1960s. While many abolitionists were killed for encouraging Blacks to vote in the Deep South, King was courageous enough to organize voting registration campaigns across the nation.
As we consider rolling to the polls, let us remember the words of a tenacious and relentless civil rights leader who fought for generations of African-Americans to have equality and the ability to exercise their right to vote.
“So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.
So our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote. Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights. Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the southern states and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence. Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient misdeeds of blood-thirsty mobs into calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will, and send to the sacred halls of Congressmen who will not sign a Southern Manifesto, because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice. Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will ‘do justly and love mercy,’ and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the divine. Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954.”
The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. from “Give Us the Ballot, We Will Transform the South,” a speech given at the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington