Three lessons for the voting rights struggle from the latest Senate setback

t the conclusion of the 1984 Democratic national convention, Jesse Jackson gathered his supporters and offered important perspectives to those of us who had labored long and hard on his presidential campaign, telling us, “We’ve never gotten freedom at a convention. The convention is a comma, where you pause and go on. We’re going to keep fighting for freedom – at the polls, in the courts, in the streets.” And then he concluded by invoking the phrase made famous by Malcolm X – “Freedom, by any means necessary.”

This week’s fight in the US Senate over the voting rights bill is a comma in a much, much longer story. It is a story that started in 1619 when Africans were brought in chains to America’s shores to do the work that created the wealth that made many white people rich.

It is a story encapsulated in the country’s 1790 Naturalization Act, one of the nation’s very first pieces of legislation, which stated that citizenship is reserved to “free white person[s]” (a law that defined US immigration policy until 1965).

It is a story that saw hundreds of thousands of Americans who wanted to be able to continue to buy and sell Black bodies go to war and kill hundreds of thousands of other Americans who sought to end slavery.