North Carolina, home of the 2012 Democratic Convention where the first African American president, Barack Obama, will accept a nomination to seek a second term as President of the United States was also where an 11-year-old boy, asleep in his bed, perished due to a fire set by the Klu Klux Klan.
James Henry Morgan died, but his sister, father, and mother escaped. The Morgan family home and business, the cornerstone of the black community, a barbershop and general store were consumed by the fire. This was the rural south of the 1930’s, a time when lynching and acts of violence against African Americans were frequent and tolerated by the authorities. James’ mother Ruth, who was also the midwife who brought my mother, her brother’s daughter into the world, had been warned to “stay in her place and stop getting so uppity”.
My aunt Ruth was determined to vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She paid the poll tax, but the clerk at the voter registration desk insisted that she recite the Preamble to the United States Constitution as a prerequisite. She knew this was an illegal tactic used to block her from registering to vote, but she agreed and when she met that challenge the clerk demanded that she write the Preamble down.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
She wrote it down perfectly and went on to become the first African-American since Reconstruction to become a registered voter in Wake County, North Carolina. She became a popular civic leader and began a campaign to register community members in her small town, but she was labeled a trouble -maker and devastation followed. Ruth triumphed in spite of that terrible act and lived to be more than 100 years old. I share her story with you today during Voter Registration month to remind you that the difficulties we face today are no greater than those we faced yesterday. We will overcome in the name of Ruth Morgan and James Henry and all the trouble makers in your family histories.
Here’s to all you beautiful trouble makers. It’s because of you, helping to register others to vote that we have Barack Obama and will have Barack Obama as president of the United States for a second term.