Let this black man's letter to JFK remind you why #NationalVoterRegistrationDay is so important

Wisconsin Historical Society, JFK Library

Today, people (and organizations) across the country are urging everyone to stop what they're doing and take a few minutes to make sure that they're actually registered to vote in this year's presidential election.

By now, anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account has seen the #NationalVoterRegistrationDay hashtag drift across their timelines, and with it, literally dozens of insanely easy ways to make sure that come this November, people will be ready to cast their ballots. One could easily see all of these options and get the (false) impression that registering to vote is no big deal.


Thankfully, the good people at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum are here to disabuse us of that unenlightened notion with a letter that then 21-year-old Charles R. McLaurin wrote to Kennedy back in 1962.

McLaurin played an active role in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) fight for voting rights throughout southern states during the Civil Rights Movement. In his letter to JFK, he describes how the black people living in his hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, want to vote, but are being kept from exercising their rights by racists using the threat of violence.


"On September 10, 1962, two young Negro girls were shot and two other homes shot into, this and other harassments and intimidations have frightened the Negro of this small delta town," McLaurin wrote. "The people of Ruleville is beginning to wonder, why protection can be given to people 6,000 miles away and not to be given to American Citizens in the South."


McLaurin's words carry a particular significance today, when racist voter suppression tactics have shifted away from being so explicitly violent and evolved into voter ID laws designed to disenfranchise minority voters.

For more information about National Voter Registration Day, click here.

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