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National Urban League and ‘State of Black America’

Marc H. Morial | 5/10/2019, 6 a.m.
The U.S. intelligence community announced it was “confident” that it happened. A Senate Intelligence Committee report confirmed it. And now ...

Marc H. Morial

Marc H. Morial

“In the days leading up to the (November 2016 presidential) election, the IRA (Russian Troll Farm) began to deploy voter suppression tactics on the Black-community targeted accounts … As the election became imminent, themes were tied into several varieties of voter suppression narratives: don’t vote, stay at home; this country is not for Black people, these candidates don’t care about Black people.” — U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Report, “The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency”

The U.S. intelligence community announced it was “confident” that it happened.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report confirmed it.

And now the Mueller Report has documented its scope in breathtaking detail.

Russia interfered to disrupt American democracy on a massive scale. An administration official recently falsely downplayed this unprecedented act of sabotage as “a few Facebook ads.”

This year’s “State of Black America” by the National Urban League that was scheduled for release Monday shows how wrong that characterization is. We’ve taken a close look at the state of the black vote, from racially motivated voter suppression laws, to wrong-headed U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hampered voting rights, to the race-based manipulation of African-American voters by Russian trolls.

What we determined is alarming.

Since the release of the Mueller Report, the Trump administration has careened among wildly contradictory positions, from flatly denying Russian interference as a “hoax,” misrepresenting it as “a few Facebook ads,” to declaring cooperation with hostile foreign agents to be a perfectly legal and natural course of action for a political campaign.

As the “State of Black America” details, we can accept nothing less than a clear-eyed accounting of what really happened and an aggressive, comprehensive plan to combat it.

For African-Americans, the unobstructed right to vote has been an ongoing, centuries-long battle. Russian interference is just the latest chapter in the blood-soaked saga.

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, Black Americans who were not enslaved had voting rights in some jurisdictions. In the Dred Scott decision, the court held that the rights and privileges of citizenship afforded by the U.S. Constitution did not apply to black people. This remained the official status of African-Americans until five years after the Civil War when the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, ensuring the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The Jim Crow era, from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, made a mockery of the 15th Amendment. Poll taxes, literacy tests, indiscriminate incarceration and violence kept most Black Americans off the voter rolls for nearly a century. White supremacist terrorists carried out nearly 5,000 documented lynchings to enforce their ideology. Dozens of Americans who were murdered for their voting rights efforts are immortalized as civil rights martyrs. The shocking images of violence helped galvanize the nation in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But the growing power of the black vote has triggered a devastating backlash. The “State of Black America” documents a resurgence of racially motivated voter suppression over the last decade, including efforts by Russian trolls to stop African-Americans from voting.

We look forward to sharing our findings.

The writer is president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League.