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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 5:40 p.m., 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 played in my head as I made my way there. My house, my church, and my voting poll were 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 four thousand African Americans murdered by lynching between 1882 and1981.  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 with a casket inside.  The hearse was followed by the Peter Brace Brigade, Massachusetts 54 Company E., and many city officials, pastors and others on 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.

I let it all sink in: four thousand 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 could have freedoms and the right to vote.

As I reflected on my current stance as a voter, I could 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, 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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