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Liberty And Justice For All

Liberty And Justice For All

Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells from American Experience’s The Vote.
Courtesy of University of Chicago

from JONATHAN C. ABBOTT
WGBH President and CEO

This year, we celebrate Independence Day at a time of great reflection as a democracy, one that is confronting the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism. How might these issues intersect and challenge Americans’ ability to vote in November?

While many states have introduced bills to expand voting rights through mail-in ballots, others are imposing stricter voter-identification requirements. As always, understanding our history is essential to navigating our present.

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted voting rights to women, resulting in the largest expansion of voting rights in U.S. history. And yet, almost immediately after those rights were bestowed, states moved to limit them. That legacy of disenfranchisement plagues our democracy to this day.

Next week, WGBH’s history series American Experience premieres a two-part documentary The Vote that revisits this pivotal issue. You can see the film on July 6 and 7 on WGBH 2, watch on the PBS Video app or stream online (it is available now for streaming on WGBH Passport). The Vote brings to life the unsung leaders of the movement and the deep controversies over gender roles and race that divided Americans then — and continue to dominate political discourse today.

Even as women won suffrage in 1920, states implemented poll taxes, literacy tests and other means to prevent Black women from voting. Native Americans were not recognized as citizens until 1924 and it would take another 40 years before every state accepted their votes. The government also excluded immigrants of Asian descent from citizenship and voting until 1952. Voter suppression continues to this day.

American Experience has partnered with The GroundTruth Project to explore the struggle for American Indian enfranchisement and thebarriers that Native American voters still have to overcome such as poll taxes, literacy tests, ID and address requirements, voting roll purges and intimidation. Our colleagues also report on the need to end barriers to the ballot for those on parole.

In her writing for The Vote’s website, author and scholar Martha Jones notes “neither racism nor sexism have a rightful place in American politics. Such differences must be banished from how our nation approaches who votes, who holds office and who determines the law and policy that govern all our lives. “

We will only achieve liberty and justice for all when all individuals have equal access to the vote.