The right to vote is central to the concept of a democracy, and the near-constant struggle for some citizens to access those rights is one of the most important narratives in our country’s history. These titles may provide a brief (and certainly not comprehensive) introduction to this issue, and will likely increase your interest in this and other related struggles in our nation’s complicated history.
Give Us The Ballot by Ari Berman
An in-depth and passionate look at the issue of voting, from slightly before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 through the ensuing decades. This book illustrates, often in painstaking detail, the tactics that were undertaken to try and prevent people of color from exercising their right to vote. From unconstitutional tests to be able to access the polls, to the closing of many polling locations in certain districts, to physical intimidation, the author lays out the facts showing that a right that is often considered inarguable is much more difficult to exercise for many of our citizens. Berman shows that the fight is certainly not won, and that this precious right must still be defended.
March by John Lewis
A three book graphic novel series depicting Representative John Lewis’s heroic efforts to bring full civil rights, including full voting rights, to the United States. Through Lewis’s work with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), we are introduced to many of the important figures in the movement. With vivid and respectful artwork, this recent history is made alive once more. This would be an incredible title to pair with Give Us The Ballot.
The Fight To Vote by Michael Waldman
Whereas the first couple of titles in this list focus on developments in voting rights in the last 50 or so years, The Fight To Vote takes a much wider view, illustrating that since the beginning of this country’s history, there has virtually always been some group fighting for their right to be heard. From the founding of the United States when only land-owning white males could vote, the author traces the sometimes incremental and sometimes more drastic expansions to the voter pool. The narrative is both depressing and inspirational, and vital to the understanding of the country.
Voices of Civil Rights Lawyers: Reflections from the Deep South, 1964-1980 edited by Kent Spriggs
A narrative told by some of the people that were there, this is a compelling and detailed look at the legal side of the civil rights struggle. Focusing on 26 lawyers of varied backgrounds, this title has inside stories of some of the legal struggles that were occurring in conjunction with the protests and civil disobedience of the time. In some cases, these lawyers were subjected to similar treatment as the protesters and activists themselves. An interesting and somewhat less-explored aspect of this essential time in American history.
Turning 15 On The Road To Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery
This is a book intended for young adult readers, but it brings a different perspective than most of these titles, as it tells the story of the youngest marcher in Selma, Alabama on that historic day. It describes the understandable fear that she had at the time, as well as the extraordinary bravery that allowed her to overcome the obstacles and challenges she faced. At a time now when some of the most well-known voices in issues such as gun control and climate change are young people, this memoir shows that young people have always played a large part in our most important struggles.