LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - As millions of Americans made their way to the polls to cast their votes for local, state and national offices many are also reflecting on what it has taken to get that right to vote for many and just how important that vote really is.
While the right to vote is widely recognized as a fundamental human right in America, it has not been for many.
One woman in Louisville has been asking us to realize the power of the vote and the power of our voice for almost as long as she has been alive.
Mattie Jones is a civil rights activist who marched in Selma alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. She organized voter-registration efforts and economic boycotts with Medgar Evers an American civil rights activist in Mississippi before he was assassinated in the driveway of his home in 1963.
Jones was presented with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award early this year and is also in the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Hall of Fame.
“Justice, equality and peace is a constant struggle,” proclaimed Jones. “We must work on it. Build that building and build the change that we want every day not only just when we vote but every day.”
Some may feel their civic duty is done after casting their ballot, but Jones believes that is just the beginning.
“During my time when we could not vote we had no say in nothing,” Jones stressed. “You have a say in the education of your children now. You have the education of getting a career for yourself. You have the privilege of living in any part of the city you want to live in or going to any part of the state.”
Those privileges did not happen by chance. Jones and many others have dedicated their lives and resources to the fight for justice and equality.
“I never sat on my porch and read nursery rhymes or sang nursery rhymes to my kids,” she said with a chuckle and a loud voice. “I sang freedom songs. That’s how I put all my grandkids to sleep.”
Brianna Harlan is one of those grandchildren. She is now a Graduate Student in New York working on her master’s in fine art concentrating on Art and Social Action.
Harlan is also part of an exhibit at 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Louisville. Her exhibit focuses on issues related to voting rights, democracy and citizenship. Harlan’s display shares her grandmother’s struggle in the battle for equal rights.
“No matter how many times you close the door,” Harlan says quietly but forcefully. “No matter how many locks you put on it. This is my voice.”
Harlan, like her grandmother, stresses we cannot simply disconnect from what’s going on because we disagree.
“If this is a true democracy this is my participation,” Harlan exclaims, “I will be shaping the type of world I want to see. I will be part of shaping the values of this country. I will be seen.”
Different voices. Each beginning at a different time in history but the message to us all is the same.
“Don’t you know one time we rode on the back of the bus,” exclaimed Jones. “We had only two seats in the back of the bus and now we have drivers driving the bus.”
“If the system isn’t serving us, then we just won’t participate in it, but the problem that we have with that is the system that we have is the system that runs everything,” proclaimed Harlan.
Democracy, power and civic responsibility exercised by all for the protection of human rights for all.
“Eighty-seven years old,” said Jones with a big smile “Never missed a primary or a general election.”
Jones also never missed a chance to educate, engage and enlist the next generation. Her granddaughter is now on the same journey, just taking a different road.
“If this isn’t the wakeup call, this moment in history with the planet raging, a pandemic going around and the democracy performance of the United States cracking then what is,” stated Harlan.
Brianna Harlan’s exhibit Ballot Box will be at 21C Hotel Museum until January 31st.