Most of my family is from Mississippi, the offspring of slavery. Like many Black families in the south, we revered education, because knowledge is something that white people could not take from us. Knowledge is power. Mom and most of her siblings went to college and received advanced degrees. I didn't realize how unusual it was that I was not the first in my family to attend college. They weren't just attending college though. They were also fighting for us, for our civil rights.
Mom's brother-in-law, David Roberson, was a prominent voting rights leader in the late 1950s. Uncle Dave attempted to register to vote in Hattiesburg, but was denied because he's Black. He risked his life to register and risked it again to testify in a landmark federal voting rights case.
Robert Lee Smith, Mom's youngest brother, spent much of his time protesting against oppression in the south. I remember seeing a black sedan parked in front of our house. Mom said it was an FBI stakeout in case Uncle Bob came by. Back then the FBI considered anyone active in the Civil Rights Movement to be a threat. I rarely saw Uncle Bob until I graduated college.
Everyone knows John Carlos, another brother-in-law, as the shoeless Olympian who raised his black-gloved fist high into the air at the 1968 Olympics. Today, Uncle John is celebrated by no less than our president, but at the time, he suffered tremendously for standing up for our civil rights.
Many of us have relatives who marched holding fists in the air, took ridiculous tests to register, and were beaten and spat upon at lunch counters. My parents and grandparents voted when it could be a matter of life and death. Like them, I am a registered voter and I vote. When I hear people saying they aren't going to vote, I get angry. Our families did not suffer those indignities and risk their very lives so we could be complacent. I, and I hope you, will honor their struggle by exercising that most precious of our civil rights, the right to vote.