RIGHTS BLOG: Updates from the Department of Human Rights

Voting Rights - Exploring "the second great disenfranchisement"

Posted on 3/16/15

In the view of Hamline Professor David Schultz, America is struggling with "the second great disenfranchisement."

David Schultz chats with Commissioner Lindsey


The first occurred after the Civil War and the ensuing Reconstruction era, when poll taxes and literacy tests kept many African Americans from voting. The second, Schultz believes, is happening today as newly-enacted Voter ID requirements and recent court decisions threaten to roll back the achievements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Schultz guides us on a journey from the days of Reconstruction until now in a lively Chatcast with MDHR Commissioner Kevin Lindsey, now available on YouTube and as a podcast through iTunes.

His observations are also featured in a half-hour documentary produced by MDHR with Roseville’s CTV15. The documentary – titled "Minnesota Conversations: The Voting Rights Act – also includes highlights from conversations with legendary civil rights leader Dr. Josie Johnson, Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky, and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.

A series of Chatcasts produced by MDHR offers extended conversations with each of these individuals.

"We are enthusiastic to add chatcasts to the Department's content management strategy," Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said. "It offers the opportunity to discuss important issues relevant to people's lives in a relaxed setting with the convenience of listening on your own terms."

In addition to sharing his insights, Professor Schultz has provided some questions from a "literacy test" that was given to African-American voters in Alabama in the 1950s. You can take the test yourself on MDHR's web site.

"I use one of those tests in a couple of my classes just to see how my students would do," Schultz says. His students have never been able to pass. Shultz says he wouldn't have been able to answer all the questions correctly, either.

In the 1950s, African-American voters who were able to get all the answers right had at least one more hurdle to overcome before being allowed to vote. Election officials would then require that they answer a bonus question: "How many bubbles are on a bar of soap?"

The correct answer?

"Any number besides the one you just gave," Schultz explains.

For more from Schultz or any of the other Chatcast guests, visit the MDHR’s Chatcasts page at http://mn.gov/mdhr/education/podcasts.html

Crossing Bridges: Selma to Minnesota

Posted on 3/9/15

The following was a speech given by Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey at the Crossing Bridges: Selma to Minnesota event held March 8 at Central Presbyterian Church. The event was held in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. The day consisted of a march from the State Capitol mall steps to Central Presbyterian Church where more than a thousand people gathered for a hour-long program.

There are moments in our country’s history in which it is evident that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that the moral arc of the universe compels us to bend toward justice and love for our fellow brothers and sisters. The event known as “Blood Sunday” is one of those watershed moments in the history of the United States in which we took a real step toward creating a more perfect union where all people are created equal.

The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March ended at the Capitol Steps.Civil rights heroes, many whose names are not recorded in the books of history, set out on a march 50 years ago to dismantle the tyranny of Jim Crow segregation at the ballot box. The courage of these brave people is inspirational to this day for me and countless others around the world as the outcome of their efforts was far from certain and the specter of death was far too real with Jimmie Lee Jackson’s murder at the hands of Alabama State Patrol officers having occurred only a few weeks prior to the march.

These brave patriots — for daring to ask that the government grant them the right to vote — were met with tear gas, attack dogs, and night sticks. Their bodies were bruised, bloodied, and beaten to the point where some suffered fractured skulls.

Did the marchers not know that the bridge they were marching on was named after a Confederate general, who was a Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan and who reportedly was elected to United States Senate on a platform of repealing the Civil War Amendments to the Constitution? Or did they fully understand that in order to eradicate hate one must fully confront such evil?

Yes, these brave Americans understood fully the possible consequences of their actions yet they marched on. And in doing so, they moved all of us along the arc of moral justice.
While progress has undeniably been made, none us is so naïve to believe that we have reached the end of the moral arc or that we have achieved our perfect union.

The work of the civil rights foot soldiers in Selma is a constant reminder that our rights and responsibilities as citizens in the American experiment must be taken on by every subsequent generation for the ideals of our country to endure. The greatness of America is in our collective hands and in the values of respect and love that we pass we give our children.

Our President is right when he notes that the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word, “We.” It is owned by no one and it belongs to everyone. He is also right when he states that we have been given a glorious task “to continually try to improve this great nation or ours.”

Today, as we honor the hard work, the commitment to purpose and the sacrifices made for us on Bloody Sunday, let us not forget to keep our eyes on the road ahead for the new bridges for us to cross.

Let us cross the bridge together to ensure that all have the right to vote by expanding access to the ballot box.

Let us restore the right to vote for felons upon their release from prison. Let us register youth to vote while in high school. Let us allow the poor greater access to the ballot box through for early voting.

Let us cross the bridge together to ensure that all have opportunity to pursue the career or business of their dreams.

Let us make sure that every child obtains an education that allows them to be successful, that every person who works hard is paid a fair wage for their labor and that those who want to grow their business have access to the capital and resources needed to expand.

Let us cross the bridge together to create a criminal justice system that is seen as fair and just by all and not just some.

Let us address disparate police practices, sentencing and overcrowded prisons that are resulting in the loss of too many boys and young men to the criminal justice system.

Let us be willing to speak to truth to one another in a manner that compels our political leaders, our business leaders, our spiritual leaders and most importantly – compels us to act together to create a more perfect union for all.

Thank you for your leadership, commitment, and willingness to cross those bridges.

Commissioner Kevin Lindsey
Minnesota Department of Human Rights

Links to Related Content:

WCCO: Hundreds Commemorate Historic Selma March In St. Paul

KARE11: Minnesotans cross the bridge from Selma to St. Paul

Hundreds march in St. Paul to remember ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Selma