The Mississippi officials met in the heat of summer with a singular goal in mind: stopping Black people from voting.
“We came here to exclude the Negro,” said the convention’s president. “Nothing short of this will answer.”
This conclave took place in 1890. But remarkably, approximately 130 years later, the laws they came up with are still blocking nearly 16% of Mississippi’s Black voting-age population from casting a ballot.
The US stands alone as one of the few advanced countries that allow people convicted of felonies to be blocked from voting after they leave prison. The policy in Mississippi underscores how these laws, rooted in the explicit racism of the Jim Crow south, continue to have discriminatory consequences today.
One of those affected is Roy Harness, a 67-year-old social worker, who may never be able to vote because of a crime committed decades ago.
In the mid-1980s, he was convicted of forgery after he ran up a debt to a drug dealer and cashed a series of fake checks. He spent nearly two years in prison and hasn’t been back since.
In recent years, Harness, who is also an army veteran, has been on a new path. He enrolled in college when he was 55 and got his bachelor’s degree when he was 63. He got a master’s degree in 2019. Now a full-time social worker, Harness keeps a shelf behind his desk filled with awards and accomplishments – a reminder to his clients of all they can accomplish.
In 2013, he tried to register during a voter registration drive at his college, but saw on a pamphlet that forgery, the crime he had been convicted of decades earlier, was a disenfranchising crime in Mississippi. [Continue reading…]