MIAMI, FL. (April 30, 2022) — To a crowd of 110 who registered, both in person and online, for the 20th Eric E. Williams Memorial Lecture on April 14, Emory University’s Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies and award-winning author, Dr. Carol Anderson, delivered a scathing exposé of the current and previous blatant attempts to suppress the vote, by legal and even extra-legal means.
“One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy” generally focused on the clear and present danger of legislatures, sing misinformation tactics that propound the US 2020 general election was stolen,
for the specific purpose of disenfranchising numbers of black and brown people across the United States. This, without a shred of evidence, and despite court after court throwing out innumerable lawsuits that touted it.
Anderson ably detailed the history of Reconstruction and ‘Jim Crowe’, and the determination of the Southern United States to ensure that freed slaves should not be allowed to participate in the democratic process. She offered striking examples of the numerous restrictions, ranging from ‘successfully’ counting jelly beans in a jar to administering literacy tests, when 50% of Black voting men in 1900 were illiterate, as opposed to only 12% of whites. “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter,” said Mississippi Legislator James Vardaman in 1890. He was later to become governor of the state. “In Mississippi we have in our constitution legislated against the racial peculiarities of the Negro…When that device fails, we will resort to something else.”
Although such shenanigans are obviously no longer tolerated, today’s voter suppression attempts are equally pernicious: predominantly black and brown counties with millions of residents saw their ballot drop boxes reduced to one per every 100,000 active voters. Those who offer water and snacks to long lines of tired voters can be arrested; and ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting locations, that black churchgoers frequent after Sunday services, were suddenly proposed closed until later in the afternoon, long after church buses were able to transport their parishioners. One state would even allow individual voters to conduct their own ‘citizen’s audit’ of election results, by personally viewing every ballot cast in an elec- tion!
What is more, although voters in the State of Florida passed an amendment to automatically reinstate the voting privileges of previously convicted felons who have paid their debt to society, i.e., restoration – after prison time, parole, and probation are completed; this was revised to provide that restoration could only be entertained, after court-imposed fines had been paid as well. This ensured that years would pass before released felons, who can barely gain employment, would be able to do so.
Anderson passionately urged the audience to be the agents of the change they want to see, to get involved, and to resist the flagrant attempts to stifle dissent and democracy.
After 19 consecutive years at Florida International University (FIU), the Eric Williams Memorial Lecture, in its new home at the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin (UT), honors the distinguished Caribbean statesman, consummate academic, internationally-renowned historian, and author of several books. His 1944 groundbreaking study Capitalism and Slavery, popularly referred to as The Williams Thesis, arguably re-framed the historiography of the British trans-Atlantic slave trade and established the contribution of Caribbean slavery to the development of both Britain and America. The book has been translated into nine languages, including Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish and Korean. The tenth, Dutch, is in process. Thus, it continues to inform today’s ongoing debate about slavery and abolition, and it remains “years ahead of its time…this profound critique is still the foundation for studies of imperialism and economic development,” according to the New York Times. This year, almost 80 years after it was first published in the US, the book registered at #5 on the UK Sunday Times Bestseller List (non-fiction). Eric Williams was also the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and Head of Government for a quarter of a century until his death in 1981. He led the country to Independence from Britain in 1962 and onto Republicanism in 1976.
Among prior Eric Williams Memorial Lecture speakers have been: the late John Hope Franklin, one of America’s premier historians of the African-American experience; Kenneth Kaunda, former President of the Republic of Zambia; Cynthia Pratt, Deputy Prime Minister of the Bahamas; Mia Mottley, Attorney General of Barbados; Beverly Anderson-Manley, former First Lady of Jamaica; Portia Simpson Miller, Prime Minister of Jamaica; Hon. Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia; Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and The Grenadines; the celebrated civil rights activist Angela Davis and prize-winning Haitian author Edwige Danticat.
The Lecture, which seeks to provide an intellectual forum for the examination of pertinent issues in Caribbean and African Diaspora history and politics, is co-sponsored in part by UT’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy; Glenn Joseph; Dr. & Mrs. Leroy Lashley; Jerry Nagee. It is also supported by The Eric Williams Memorial Collection Research Library, Archives & Museum at the University of the West Indies (UWI, Trinidad and Tobago), which was inaugurated by former US Secretary of State, Colin L. Powell in 1998. It was named to UNESCO’s prestigious Memory of the World Register in 1999.
Post-Lecture viewing is accessible on the UT Warfield Center’s YouTube channel. The 2021 UT digital launch videos and online exhibition of the Eric Williams Memorial Collection Museum at UWI is available at: https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/caaas/events/ewml.php