State Watch

99-year-old Black man born on a plantation votes: ‘I just hope that things get better’

A 99-year-old Black man born to a plantation sharecropper is urging Americans to exercise their right to vote, adding that he hopes “things get better politically” in the country. 

Robert H. Smith Sr., of Jackson, Miss., who was born on the Burks Plantation near Rayville, La., in 1921, told ABC News that “Voting is an experience that every American citizen should have” when “we the people decide who’s going to be our leader.”

“I remember when I couldn’t vote,” said Smith, who submitted his absentee ballot while wearing a face mask and an “I Voted” sticker last month after waiting in line for 20 minutes with his son. 

Although the 15th Amendment, adopted in 1870, legally granted Black men the right to vote, Southern laws, including literacy tests and poll taxes, still prevented many African Americans from voting for decades. 

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination on both the state and local level. 

In 2013, however, the Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the act that required areas with a history of discrimination to obtain approval prior to altering voting rules. 

Smith told ABC News that while he was pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, African American students couldn’t eat at certain dining centers due to the color of their skin. 

In response, Smith joined the school’s community relations committee to advocate for fellow African American students and also participated in local sit-ins.

Smith also commented on the country’s recent demonstrations following the police killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, saying that the movement for racial justice is not over yet. 

“I’ve been involved in this movement for the past 50 years … but there’s much more to be done,” Smith told ABC News.

Smith said that with the election fast approaching, his biggest hope is for a better future for his family.

“I just hope that things get better politically. I don’t think we have to have the situation that we have today,” Smith said.

President Trump is poised to win the deeply Republican state of Mississippi on Tuesday, although incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) has faced a formidable challenger in Democratic Senate candidate Mike Espy. 

While Espy outspent Hyde-Smith by nearly $3 million according to the last campaign finance report before Election Day, the Cook Political Report rates the race as “solid” Republican and FiveThirtyEight shows that Hyde-Smith has an 88 percent chance of winning the election.

Tags 2020 elections Absentee ballot Cindy Hyde-Smith Mike Espy Donald Trump Jackson Lyndon Johnson Mississippi president trump racial justice protests Voting Rights Act

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