While I was on vacation last week, I had a chance to re-visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis at the former site of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The museum does a remarkable job -- both for those who remember the 1960s (just barely, in my case) and 1950s and those born years later -- of re-creating the struggle for basic human rights for African-Americans in the South, and beyond. Emotionally, the sadness of the violence that cut short the life of Dr. King and others -- black and white -- who crusaded for civil rights is overwhelmed by awe at what they and their allies accomplished. Schools are integrated, lunch counters and Greyhound buses desegregated, voters registered and ballots cast. There is much struggle, but in each exhibit it is human dignity that triumphs.
For the most part, the story of the National Civil Rights Museum peters out after 1968. If only things were that simple. Last week, those feelings of sadness and wonder were joined by a third emotion: Anger. Looking again at photos of John Lewis (now a Georgia congressman) and other activists bravely crossing Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, pressing their right to vote, knowing that state troopers in baby-blue helmets and thick nightsticks were waiting for them on the other side, I am still amazed by their courage. Yet it boggles my mind that 47 years later, here in my home state of Pennsylvania, we are still fighting to ensure that all valid citizens -- especially the poor, the elderly, and minorities -- are able to vote.
Sure, we've come a long way. Gone are the blatant polls taxes or literacy tests; the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is what allowed John Lewis to become a congressman...and, arguably, Barack Obama to become the president. But why on earth would we want to take even one step backwards, back onto that Edmund Pettus Bridge?...which is exactly what Gov. Tom Corbett and his allies have tried to accomplish here in the Cradle of Liberty with their voter ID law.
With new evidence every day that "the problem" that the voter ID law seeks to address -- voter impersonation -- is all but non-existent, it doesn't even matter if 1 million legitimate voters are negatively impacted (one estimate, probably too high) or just one voter, because even that would be one voter too many. It's just wrong. The reality is that the never-ending struggle for civil rights in America didn't end in a museum.
It's still two steps up, and one step back. And that's not acceptable.