Dec 28

The promise of a right to vote, 54 years later

A special moment Dora Baines, San Luis Obispo, registers to vote in the San Luis Obispo County clerk's office, a big moment in her life after being denied this right for more than 35 years in Mississippi.

A special moment Dora Baines, San Luis Obispo, registers to vote in the San Luis Obispo County clerk’s office, a big moment in her life after being denied this right for more than 35 years in Mississippi.

February 10, 1965
We set the fireworks off on July 4th celebrating a unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America. The second sentence is the one quoted most often.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Thomas Jefferson wrote it and likely had copy editing assistance from Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. That is an excellent group of writers.

The majestic language is a big improvement over the rough draft’s run on sentence.

We hold these truths to be^ sacred & undeniable; that all Men

they are endowed by their creator with
are created equal & independent; that ^from that equal creation they

equal rights, some of which are rights; that these
derive in rights inherent & inalienable ^ among ^which are the

preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;

that to secure these ^ends, governments are instituted among men,

deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that

whenever any form of government shall becomes destructive of these

ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, & to

institute new government, laying it’s foundation on such principles,

& organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most

likely to effect their safety & happiness.

The irony behind the creation of this beautiful document was that two of the three had owned slaves. Franklin would later in life become an outspoken abolitionist. During Jefferson’s lifetime he would have the names of 600 slaves listed in inventory. Late 20th century DNA testing indicates a male in the Jefferson line was the fathered a child with his late wife’s slave half-sister Sally Hemings. Some Jefferson descendants dispute these findings but his last inventory counted 187 slaves and among the few he freed were the children of Hemings.

The failure of the founding fathers to directly address the evils of slavery would be resolved 85 years later in bloody Civil War. On some issues the nation’s founders were ordinary politicians, compromising for votes.

It would take 189 years for the soaring language to ring true for Dora Baines, documented in the then Telegram-Tribune.

1965-02-11-right-to-voteFears lifted, Negro woman registers

By Bill King
Staff Writer

The right to vote-a common place thing to most Americans and ignored by many-has become a reality for a 54-year-old Negro woman living in San Luis Obispo.
Wednesday, Dora Baines walked into the county courthouse and into the clerk’s office to register to vote.
No one was standing in the doorway blocking her entrance.
There were no shouts of protests or name-calling.
There were no lines of jeering whites along the walk, held back by helmeted policemen.
It was quiet-a normal afternoon at the clerk’s office. Mrs. Baines simply walked in, announced her intentions, signed an affidavit and walked out. It took less than five minutes.
This simple, short ceremony was a remarkable thing to Mrs. Baines who has been denied the right to vote for more than 35 years in Mississippi under threat of reprisal.
She was openly amazed at the simplicity of registering-no tests to take, no difficult questions to answer and, most of all, with no fear of having her house burned or suffering bodily harm.
For 53 years Mrs. Baines lived in Mississippi, in a small town near Natchez, in the deep, deep south, she said. “A poor area.”
She was married when she was 15 and three years later took her first job. “I cleaned a 60-80 room hotel for $5 a week,” she recalled. “Most people back there never had much,” she said. “Even most of the white folks were poor.”
Her life was routine for the next 35 years as she raised a son and went about her daily cleaning chores. She managed to buy a little home in Roxie Miss. She has never driven or had a car.
Then things started changing. Racial strife was spreading as Negros began demanding their rights and started voter registration drives. People were killed and the Ku Klux Klan burned homes, she said.
“I never tried to vote or register. I was afraid of trouble.”
With the situation in Mississippi growing more dangerous, she decided to leave about a year ago when she heard that her brother was dying of leukemia in Compton, where her son was living. She moved to Compton, bringing her invalid mother with her.
Her brother died last May and the following September she decided to move to San Luis Obispo and work. Since then she has been doing domestic housework when she can find it while still caring for invalid mother.
“I make $1.50 an hour here,” she said proudly, “and people here are as sweet as they can be.”
Registering to vote was a big moment in her life and the same may soon be possible for her mother, Rose, who is 81 and has never registered or voted.

In other front page news over 200 residents in Nipomo signed a petition to deny expansion of a farm labor camp.

Related posts:

  1. Apollo 11 Moon Launch 40 years ago today
  2. Charles “Tex” Watson Wedding, the Manson murders 40 years later
  3. Loma Prieta Earthquake 20 years