WHITE HALL, Ala. – Once the mayor of White Hall in poverty-stricken Lowndes County, John Jackson now owns the Piggly Wiggly off Route 80, where the shelves are nearly bare and the parking lot even emptier.
Jackson was born and raised in Lowndes County and served as mayor of his hometown of White Hall from 1980, when the town was incorporated, until 2009. According to U.S. Census Bureau, White Hall has a population of just 800 people, 41 percent of whom live below the poverty line.
During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Jackson was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Jackson, now in his 60s, said he and others, including Stokely Carmichael, a leader with the coordinating committee, started the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, which was an early precursor to the Black Panther Party – in which Carmichael played a major role. The freedom organization’s goal was to educate people in Alabama’s Black Belt about how to vote, and more importantly, to encourage them to run for local elected office.
“That was our whole goal was to get black people elected,” said Jackson, his raspy voice dropping to a reverent tone. “We started getting people elected to the board of education, county council, deputy sheriff … and then to see Barack Obama get elected president? That was the happiest moment of my life.”
But then came the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, which ended certain requirements for some states and jurisdictions to get preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before enacting certain new voting regulations.
“They’re trying to turn back the hands of time, trying to make it harder for black people to vote. It’s just a disgrace, because if they take away the right to vote, then we’re left off,” Jackson said. “They’re not really talking about the right to vote, but they’re trying to make it harder for you to have that right to vote”
One regulation that took effect in Alabama after the Shelby County decision required citizens to show a photo ID to vote. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has said the state is doing everything it can to make sure eligible voters are registered and have a photo ID. As evidence, he points to the mobile voter ID unit, which travels to each county at least once a year to give out free photo IDs.
But Jackson said the rural nature of Lowndes County, which has a population of just more than 10,000 and is 40 miles outside of Montgomery, makes the mobile unit small comfort to its residents.
“There are a lot of older people who might not have an ID. They might not have nothing but a Social Security card,” Jackson said. “They don’t have a driver’s license. So those people are gonna be turned around at the polls.”
Advocates for voter ID said the requirements protect the integrity of the democratic process and prevent voter fraud.
“That’s just a gimmick to discourage the black vote,” Jackson said, adding that he believes in the importance of voting.
“Every vote counts,” he said. “It’s very important to put people into office that’s going to stand up and be truthful and do what needs to be done for the whole community.”
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