In 1868, thousands of black men died voting for Ulysses S. Grant, their first opportunity to vote for a U.S. president. In 1968 one black man laid down his life assisting garbage workers in Memphis in pursuit of yet more civil rights.
One hundred years before Martin Luther King Jr., black men by the thousands were killed for the right of life, liberty and property in one of the most violent elections in the history of this country.
On the heels of the Great War Between the States came the issue of black male suffrage during the 1868 election. At stake for the black man was the crossroads of going forward or backward.
The 14th Amendment—that great article of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868—constituted the backbone from which Martin Luther King Jr. later proclaimed his "Dream". This amendment, ratified by Congress and sealed with the blood of so many black men, was the unshakeable weapon upon which King stood.
To lose the 1868 election might have caused a repeal of the "14th Amendment", which was ushered in by the Radical Republicans on July 28, 1868. To win the election could help solidify a future of new freedoms after so many years of bondage.
And so these brave black men voted, enduring the greatest election intimidation and violence ever witnessed on our Mississippi soil. Thousands of them died for this great privilege. (Indeed, it was MLK who 100 years later said, "Freedom has always been expensive".)
Without them paying this cost, Grant would have never been elected president. Instead, Horatio Seymour, former Governor of New York—who supported the 1863 riots in New York City that massacred blacks after the fall of Vicksburg—would have been elected.
But an even greater threat came in the form of Seymour's vice presidential running mate, Francis Blair Jr., who was the attack dog on the campaign and who considered the newly ratified 14th Amendment "null and void." Both Seymour and Blair promised to repeal the black man's right to vote.
Under such fear, intimidation and oppression, more than a half-million black Southern male voters elected Grant, exercising their first privilege to help elect a president and thereby laying the foundation for the future of their people.
They were killed for a righteous cause.
But today we must ask: What would MLK, Jr. say now when thousands of black people who enjoy such freedoms are being shot and killed mostly by other blacks?
I think MLK Jr. would say, "Enough is Enough!"
A descendant of a slave, writer Al Arnold in his first book, Robert E. Lee’s Orderly: A Modern Black Man’s Confederate Journey, tells Arnold's own journey of embracing his Confederate heritage. A resident of Madison, Miss., Arnold's second book (for youth) Robert E. Lee's Orderly: A Black Youth Southern Inheritance, was released last October (published by Inkbeans Press). Visit Orderlyforlee.com to make purchases.