MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
GO VOTE – IT MAKES YOU FEEL BIG AND STRONG
BY BRIAN O. BEVERLY, TENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT BAR / WAKE COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION
MY UNCLE CUT MY HAIR GROWING UP. His name was Archie Foote, and he was married to my father’s older sister Thelma. He had a small, battered barbershop near the end of a country road in my hometown in southern Maryland. It couldn’t have been more than 150 square feet and always seemed to have a leak in the roof. Metal folding chairs lined the fading wood-paneled walls, along with one or two padded chairs that someone in the family might’ve wanted to discard. Landing a padded chair was a coup, because there was only one barber’s chair in the shop and the wait for a haircut could be quite long.
I could never sit in the padded chairs – they were reserved for the “grown folk.” Everyone in the neighborhood called my uncle “Pop” Archie. He was one of the most charming individuals I’ve ever known. He had an infectious laugh and his mannerisms were smooth as silk. He never met a stranger and could carry on a conversation for hours with family, customers or new acquaintances alike. In retrospect, that was one of the reasons a haircut took so long. Pop Archie had a number of running buddies whom I would frequently encounter at the barbershop. They included Mr. Earl Bourne, Mr. James Clark and Mr. Robert Quarles. They were all around the same age and I’m pretty sure all were World War II veterans – I know for sure that my uncle was. In fact, he honed his barber skills while in the Army.
My Daddy was born in 1936, so he was two decades their junior and I quickly realized his high regard for them when he took me to get a haircut on either Friday night or Saturdays. Pop Archie had a day job as a linesman for the local electric co-op, so Friday nights and Saturdays were the only days the barbershop was open (although Pop always seemed to find time to make house calls on his customers who were sick and shut-in whenever necessary).
Pop Archie, Mr. Bourne, Mr. Clark and Mr. Quarles were all charismatic gentlemen in their own right. Mr. Bourne might’ve been somewhat more eloquent in his speech; Mr. Clark would at times become more animated than the others; and Mr. Quarles was larger in stature but had a quiet presence that commanded attention even when he wasn’t talking. They were collectively fond of storytelling and recounting general life experiences. Sometimes the stories would become a bit embellished. Daddy used to say when the group got together that “the first lie don’t stand a chance.” I remember distinctly as a little boy in the shop hearing Pop Archie recount a game where he swears the Redskins scored three touchdowns in the final minute to beat their rival that day. I was clearly oblivious to the incredible quality of some of the tales. As a youngster, when I relied on my father to take me to get a haircut, and even later as a teen when I was free to drive myself, I often hung on their every word. They would talk about a myriad of topics: sports, cars, politics, womenfolk, hunting, etc. I don’t remember the details of all the stories. Nor do I remember the punchlines of the many jokes. There is, however, one thing that became etched in my brain in that little barbershop: the importance of voting.
Looking back, I can only surmise the motivation for their passion regarding the franchise. It wasn’t a very popular notion for a black man to exercise his right to vote during their lifetime. I heard firsthand the stories of their treatment upon returning home from World War II and the anecdotes didn’t always depict the level of fairness we would expect to see given to men who had served our country. Maryland, while viewed from the deep South as a northern state, is still below the Mason-Dixon Line and was not immune from the Jim Crow climate of their times. Interestingly, two of the most well-known slaves from the antebellum period were Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and both escaped to freedom from Maryland. While this seasoned crew never discussed whom they voted for, they did champion the responsibility – the duty even – to encounter any hardship required to exercise the right to vote.
As I grew older and appreciated the historical context of their situation, my knowledge only reinforced their message regarding the obligation to vote. Sure the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution facially guaranteed the right to vote to all citizens, but it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and ensuing protracted litigation that many African-Americans were armed with the protections that secured this constitutional right for them. Even this landmark legislation was achieved at the cost of unthinkable cruelty to many. The images of “Bloody Sunday” and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama serve as an indelible illustration for history-conscious individuals, both black and white. My dear friend Mark Finkelstein told me that his father was in Selma in the wake of that incident, and I’ve yet to pick his brain on the accounts he was given but I’m looking forward to the discussion. This space is too narrow to recount the early 20th Century struggles of women to secure the franchise, or before that the slow expansion of voting rights beyond the initial restricted class of wealthy landowners. The point is that tremendous sacrifices have been made by an immeasurable number of right-thinking people to afford us a privilege that far too many of us take for granted.
So, in this election season, I’m imploring you to instill in your family, friends and professional circles the lesson that was imparted to me by my uncle and his cohorts. It’s not my place to tell you whom to vote for, nor is it my or anyone else’s business for whom you choose to “pull the lever.” However, the fact that you exercise your right to vote is my business, since I was trained up by some of the very individuals who sacrificed so much to acquire and preserve it. Nothing should prevent you from voting. The right to vote isn’t yours to play with. It belongs to those who made it a reality for you and me. They endured too many indignities for us to ignore such an awesome responsibility. If you watched the presidential debates in 2012, you likely heard Bob Schieffer utter my current favorite quote about voting. He attributes it to his mother. He said, very simply, “Go vote – it makes you feel big and strong.” WBF