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Protecting voting rights is vital wherever we are in the country, but there are certain iconic places, where discussing voting rights takes on particular significance. Memphis, Tennessee is one of those places. How can we ever forget that one vote in the Tennessee legislature gave women the right to vote in 1920? Nor can we ever forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life for equal rights, including voting rights, in Memphis one April evening in 1968.
The Lorraine Motel stands much as it did all those years ago. Catching sight of the sign rising out of the buildings of downtown Memphis sends a chill down the spine and reminds us of the importance of the task League members over the generations have undertaken to insure that our elections are free, fair and accessible to all eligible voters. The League of Women Voters of Memphis/Shelby County certainly has not forgotten. At the Benjamin Hooks Public Library on Monday night, the League sponsored a public event at which I had the privilege of speaking. Over 70 people engaged in a lively discussion of the current threats to voting rights and the opportunities that local communities have to stand up for our most fundamental right.
Not just the folks at the event, but also the local media recognized the importance of this topic. Two local television stations and the Memphis Daily News ran interviews addressing the threats and the League’s call for local vigilance and action. Sandwiched between interviews and the event, I had the opportunity to stand on the balcony where Dr. King last stood and reflect on the legacy that we commemorated in Washington this summer and that we League members uphold so proudly and so capably all across the country.
This was a very special trip for me. A short film at the Lorraine Motel Museum started with the words: “…a movement doesn’t begin with a movement, it begins with individuals.” In every state and in hundreds of communities throughout the country, the League is comprised of individuals creating real change in our own home towns and in the halls of power.