In 1939, Rosanell Eaton took a two-mile journey by mule-drawn wagon to register to vote at the Franklin County Courthouse in North Carolina.
Once she arrived she had to recite the preamble of the Constitution as part of a “literacy test” targeted at black voters, The Washington Post reported.
On Monday, a federal court will hear a challenge to a voter ID law in North Carolina that opponents say is the equivalent of a modern-day literacy test. Eaton is a plaintiff in the case.
Since passing her literacy test 70 years ago, Eaton has voted in every election and has been a voting rights activist who worked to register more than 4,000 fellow voters.
“I think it is because my foreparents or forefathers didn’t have the opportunity of registering and voting,” she said at a court hearing cited by The Post.
The now-94-year-old was faced with a challenge to her voting rights because of a provision of a North Carolina law passed in 2013 requiring voters to have a photo ID at the polls.
Last year, Eaton and her daughter had to make 10 trips to the Department of Motor Vehicles, drive more than 200 miles and spend more than 20 total hours working to obtain a form of ID that would allow her to vote, The Post reported. On her driver’s licence, Rosanell Eaton was listed as her name. But on her voter-registration card, a combination of her maiden and married names, Rosanell Johnson Eaton, was provided.
North Carolina passed the law shortly after the US Supreme Court largely gutted the Voting Rights Act, which made states with histories of discrimination (mostly in the South) get permission from the federal government before changing their election laws.
Speaking to her daughter in 2014, Eaton said: “You know, all of this is coming back around before I could get in the ground. I was hoping I would be dead before I’d have to see all this again,” according to The Guardian.
Eaton had grown up in the Jim Crow-era South, where she lived in a completely segregated society and woke up on more than one occasion to burnt crosses in her yard.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama mentioned Eaton in a letter he sent to The New York Times.
I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place. It is now up to us to continue those efforts. Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislatures must make it easier — not harder — for more Americans to have their voices heard. Above all, we must exercise our right as citizens to vote, for the truth is that too often we disenfranchise ourselves.
Rosanell is now 94 years old. She has not given up. She’s still marching. She’s still fighting to make real the promise of America. She still believes that We the People have the awesome power to make our union more perfect. And if we join her, we, too, can reaffirm the fundamental truth of the words Rosanell recited.
The requirement for ID was included in a 2013 bill passed by North Carolina’s legislature that also reduced early voting, ended a longtime practice of preregistering teenagers before they turned 18, prohibited people from voting the same day they registered, and stopped ballots cast in the wrong voting precinct from being counted, per The Post.
Republicans say the new law helps keep the integrity of voting while combatting fraud, and lawyers for the state said those who are challenging the legislation have no evidence it’s going to stop people from being able to vote, according to The Post. Last summer, the state’s general assembly passed an amendment allowing for voters to cast provisional ballots if they’re able to show “a reasonable impediment” in obtaining proper, valid photo ID. Some of those reasons include illness, work, and transportation.
The challenge to North Carolina’s law might not be resolved in time for the state’s March primary vote. Last summer, US District Judge Thomas Schroeder held a trial on most of the voting law, aside from the photo-ID requirement, which was exempt because of an amendment the state legislature added on the eve of that trial. The photo-ID portion of the law will be on trial Monday.
Schroeder has not yet ruled on the earlier trial, according to The Wall Street Journal.
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