If you haven’t voted already, then you need to get to your polling place sometime today and the sooner the better. If you have to stand in a line a few minutes, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to you.
Now, for those “too busy” to vote, tuned out or see no need to, well, something is definitely wrong with you. A special note here to my African Americans friends, you should never have any of those feelings.
Maybe the life experience of my friend Dennis Dahmer can get a few of you to move. He’s been mentioned before in this column, but this time I’m giving him a voice.
Dahmer’s dad, Vernon F. Dahmer Sr., was a successful businessman and a civil rights leader in Kelly Settlement, an area north of Hattiesburg, Miss. He died as a result of the Jan. 10, 1966, attack on his home by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Their wrath was primarily about his ongoing efforts to get African Americans registered to vote.
(A note here. Dahmer had 5 brothers who were drafted in the military. The Selective Service, he alleges, was used to punish African Americans like this dad by drafting their sons.)
Denying African Americans their constitutional right to vote was a big thing in the South. Many African Americans and others died in the fight for that right. (Now, gerrymandering works to limit African American voting strength.)
The day before he was killed, Dahmer announced on the radio that he was willing to pay folks’ poll taxes if they could not afford the fee.
Poll taxes, which were applied on whites and blacks, were mainly intended to cripple the chances of poor African Americans voting. Along with racist literacy tests, it was part of a one-two punch to prevent African Americans from voting.
Dennis Dahmer, who now lives in Baton Rouge, remembers well the night his dad was killed. The cowardly Klan members set his house on fire; he, his two sisters, a brother, his dad and mom were inside. His dad rounded up his shotguns and a rifle and started firing at the carloads of racists outside.
Dennis Dahmer said his dad was firing out of several windows in the burning house with such rapidity that Klan members thought there was more than one person firing back. As the hail of bullets flew at them, some Klan members even started shooting at each other, he said.
Their house burned to the ground. The elder Dahmer died in the hospital of smoke inhalation and severe burns.
“He lost that last battle even though he single-handedly had fought two car loads of armed Klansmen to a standstill,” Dahmer said.
His tombstone has this inscribed on it: “If you don’t vote … you don’t count."
“I tell folks all the time that you may be disenchanted with voting, don’t see how it will change your life, why waste the time? I’m busy just trying to live, etc. … Go vote anyway. Do it for your kids, grandkids, other folks' kids and even the kids not even born yet!” Dahmer said.
“This is not the 1960s when just trying to vote could get you fired, your life threatened, to be run out of town and worse,” he said.
He pointed to African-Americans in the position of mayor-president, council members, school board members, legislators and those appointed to leadership positions in Baton Rouge.
“They may or may not be everything you want them to be, but I believe you can have a civil discussion with any of them about your differences. This may not have happened before we started voting,” he said.
“My dad would be deeply disappointed with the low turnout especially among minorities” in many elections “considering the sacrifices made by so many to just earn the right to vote,” he said.
“For too many — I’m talking about African Americans — voting, a matter that really affects their lives, does not have the same value as a sporting event,” he said.
If Vernon Dahmer’s courage — along with others across the south who were maimed, killed or lost everything they had — does not inspire everyone, and especially African Americans, to vote then there’s not much that can move you. Sad.
For the rest, your polling place is not too far. If you have to spend an hour in line then so be it. I bet Dennis Dahmer would love to stand in the voting line with his dad. And they would probably be there for as long as it takes.
If you’re reading this today, please vote.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly column for this newspaper, at firstname.lastname@example.org.