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Essays on Civic Engagement

This Is Your Democracy

My Ancestor’s Hope

Darlene Williams Springfield

The date was Tuesday, November 3, 2020 around 5:40pm, I found myself heading for my voting poll feeling very discouraged. Four years earlier a man whom I thought could never be voted president, was voted in. Trump! Throughout his whole presidency I feel I’ve been in one big anxiety attack. He has divided this country in ways that recharged the docile racism that had been operating underground. It has turned Back into an out in the open beast. This trauma plays in my head as I make my way there. My house, my church and my voting poll are all on one square block so I decided to walk there. I almost stayed home because I just felt like Trump was going to win again, what good did my vote do before. As I walked past my church, a song performed by Billie Holiday popped in my head. “Southern trees bear a strange fruit/ Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze/ Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees.” I remembered the Ashes to Ashes ceremony I attended there.

As I reflected on my current stance as a voter, I can remember being so proud to register and become an active voter.

The Ashes to Ashes Homegoing Celebration for the Unburied,  remembered the nearly 4000 African Americans murdered by lynching between 1882-1981.  The ceremony was filmed live on April 28-29, 2016 at my 175 year old historic church St. John’s Congregational Church (Free Church) of Springfield, Massachusetts. It was made into a documentary led by Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker, the ceremony opened on a Friday evening with a grand introduction and acknowledgements. The close of the ceremony that night was outside, prayers were said and a noose was burned and thrown into a fire pit. The next and final day began with a funeral procession led by a horse drawn hearse casket inside.  Followed by the Peter Brace Brigade, Massachusetts 54 Company E. as well as many other city officials, pastors and a host of those following by foot. We all started from one central location and journeyed to St. John’s to hold the funeral. A Eulogy was given and the singing of Negro Sprituals. As I let it all sink in 4000 souls many unidentified, someone’s family members gone, tortured, and sometimes mutilated. It made me think of how many have lost their lives so that I can have freedoms and the right to vote.

As I reflected on my current stance as a voter, I can remember being so proud to register and become an active voter. I had every confidence that my vote made a difference. Now I wasn’t so sure. I believe it counts more locally than nationally. I believe there are many powers in play whether I vote or not. With that being said, I had lost heart concerning voting. Many in my Generation X have opted out of voting feeling there is no point, it is pre-decided. As for me when I think of what my ancestors sacrificed so that I can have the right to vote. I will show up every time. With all of this swirling through my mind, I continued to walk on to my voting poll. Because it is my right. Because it is my obligation. Because I can. Because the main trait I inherited from my ancestors is Hope.

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