A “votercade” was held in St. Louis on Saturday, in support of the National John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Action Day. The national event was to “to demand preservation and expansion of voting rights,” by “mobilizing to pass the For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, DC Statehood and [to] address the filibuster.” (Washington University in St. Louis was one of dozens of endorsers for the local event.)
Organizers said 140 cities participated nationally. Locally there was a press conference, as well as the votercade—decorated cars driving through the neighborhood, honking horns—and a planned teach-in at the Tandy Center, though the threat of rain and the need for social distancing inside the gym made this difficult. The Center is named for Charlton H. Tandy, who was born to free Black parents in Kentucky in 1836, served in the Missouri State Militia in the Civil War, and later held 11 federal, state, and city positions. He was a tireless advocate for Black civil rights and a loyal Republican who “did not hesitate to criticize the party” for its stance on race.
The Tandy Center sits next to Sumner High, the first high school for African Americans west of the Mississippi, and the alma mater of Chuck Berry, Arthur Ashe, Dick Gregory, Tina Turner, and many other notable figures.
This neighborhood, The Ville, was once the heart of the Black middle class in St. Louis, when redlining and other racist financial and legal policies prevented people from living and thriving elsewhere in the city.
Anita Collins, an advocate for sexually-abused male children and “a volunteer fighting voter suppression,” was standing on a nearby corner holding a sign for the event and calling out to passing cars. She said only one in seven people had voted in the precinct.
“It’s not that they don’t want to vote. It’s that they don’t know that vote was important to them.
“That’s the beauty of it,” she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. “Showing people that the vote really is you.”
She pleaded with me to tell people to read the John Lewis Act (full text here).
Collins went to Sumner High. She lives outside The Ville now but still volunteers here, as well as advocates for investment and interest in the historic neighborhood.
People move on, she said, “but you’ll never forget the love you had here.” She said her main interest is not in what people have or do not have—it is in “what you’re doing to somebody else.”
A John Lewis Mobilization Celebration Town Hall will be held virtually on Wednesday, May 12, 7-8 pm, EDT.