“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.”
During her tenure as Chairman of the National Board of Directors at NAACP, Roslyn Brock — arbiter of social impact, health equity champion, strategic collaborator and so much more — spoke at a conference held by the United Nations in Geneva. In her speech, Roslyn provided the audience with a historical outlook of voting rights and civil rights in the United States of America. Even thought the conference took place in 2012, the issues raised have not lost any of its relevance today,
You can listen to Roslyn or read her speech here:
“Good afternoon everyone, I’m very pleased to see all of you here. It is my task to give you the historical struggle for civil rights and voting rights in the United States. As many of you may know, the NAACP was founded in 1909 to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights for all persons, of all races. It was created as a counterbalance to the white supremacy groups that were all too common in America at the time. It remains a counterbalance to the institutional racism that is all too common in our country today.
“Our organization has had a very long and storied history and partnership with the United Nations. On December 1st, 1918, one of our founders, W. E. B. Du Bois traveled to France as a representative of the NAACP for the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations. This is where a resolution was adopted — that it was the right of people of African descent to have a voice in their own government and whenever there was an abuse of this regard, it is the duty of the United Nations to publicize these conditions.
“In 1935 the NAACP petitioned the League of Nations to protest the proposed British- Franco agreements, which would have settled the Italian-Ethiopian war by giving half of the African nation to Italy. In 1944, we note that Roy Wilkins and Clarence Mitchell participated in drafting certain sections of the United States Charter at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference.
“In 1945, Walter White and W. E. B. Du Bois proposed to the United Nations Conference on international organizations, that the colonial system be abolished and equality of races recognized.
“We have gathered today in the legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois and Walter White, for in 1947 they presented a 155-page petition entitled an Appeal to the World, that documented the history of racism in America to this body. The NAACP petition was debated for two days at a meeting in Geneva, which resulted in the drafting committee of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
“It was in 1947 that our organization cemented its involvement in the global movement for equality and justice. W. E. B. Du Bois’s appeal entitled ‘An Appeal to the World’ spoke of a nation that was built on principles of equality, yet treated 10% of its citizens as a segregated cast. It described the plight of African-Americans in the middle of the 20th century. He believed that something had gone wrong with the American dream. He knew the United States was founded on the principle that all men and women are created equal. Yet the nation tolerated a brutal slave trade for eight decades. After emancipation, many states passed Jim Crow laws that mandated segregation. African-Americans sat in separate rail cars, drank from separate water fountains, and studied in separate and inferior schools. He knew the United States was founded on the ideal that government is “by the people and for the people”, that man can control his own destiny through the power of the vote. W. E. B. Du Bois saw a coordinated legislative attack on the right to vote. Many southern states introduced poll tests to restrict the vote to those who could afford it. Others introduce literacy tests, and still other schemed to limit the vote. These laws certainly disenfranchised African Americans whose parents and grandparents had been slaves. They also disenfranchised poor, uneducated white Americans whose ancestors had founded our great nation.
“Sixty-five years later, the United States has changed thanks to the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, the NAACP, and the millions of Americans who refuse to accept discrimination and disenfranchisement as a way of life. Despite our best efforts, we know that there is still something wrong with the American dream. In 2012, we see the explicit racism of yesterday, turn into the institutionalized inequity and inequality of today.
“The United States was founded on the principle of ‘all men and women are created equal’, but America is still a country of deep gaps. The employment gap, the healthcare gap, the justice gap. The United States, a country that we love so dearly, was founded on the ideals that government is, and should be forever — by the people. People who will then control their destiny, through the power of the franchise — and that is the right to vote. So we are here today, in the legacy of our founders, to cross that great bridge. We are here to speak the truth, to what’s happening in our nation under the weight of voter suppression. We return to the United Nations today to make another appeal to the world.”