Martin Luther King Jr. fought for Black Americans to be heard. He fought for equality. King believed that no matter whom you are you deserved to be recognized. How right he was when he spoke those famous words, on an August day in 1963, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Today as we celebrate the re-election of President Obama, it’s curious to think that when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words he was foreshadowing one of the greatest elections in American history and the significant progress of the black vote.
Being a Black American I recognize the struggle to make our voice heard, and today, I am exceedingly proud to see that America is no longer defaulting on the blacks’ right to vote. History tells us that while the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution was ratified in 1870 and Black Americans were granted the right to vote, blacks were still fighting for that basic right almost 100 years later. In the last decade we have been seeing the voter participation gap between whites and blacks shrink, and recently when many thought that couldn’t last, it did.
In 1992, with the election of President Clinton, we began to see the black vote start to grow and become an influential demographic in election outcomes. Throughout the 1990’s and early in the 2000’s black turnout ebbed and flowed between 53-60%, just shy of the total turnout for all Americans
It was in 2008 that we saw the electorate take a drastic turn, and what many thought was an anomaly, but we now know is the new normal. Americans elected their first Black President, partly due to the high black turnout. According to census data, in 2008 the number of reported registered blacks was 17,375,000. Of that total, 16,133,000 reported voting, meaning nearly 93% of all registered blacks turned out to vote. Out of the total Voting Eligible Population 64.7% of blacks came out to vote. That is a 4.7% change from 2004 to 2008 – 60% having voted in 2004. Blacks again came out in 2012 turning out in the same numbers as 2008 to help re-elect President Obama. Many political pundits did not expect this group to turnout in the same numbers as 2008, and in fact expected the turnout to drop significantly. While total support for the President was slightly down from 2008 (95% voted for him in 2008), CNN exit polls still showed that an impressive 93% of Black Americans voted for Obama in 2012.
Will we see another decrease in 2016 or will we see another increase, only time will tell – but one thing is for sure, the black vote has finally gained traction and Black Americans now have a voice, they are being heard and they are taking advantage of that 15th Amendment. They are honoring the march down Pennsylvania Avenue so many years ago when a young man from Atlanta, Georgia let the world know that he had a dream and 50 years later, that dream is a reality.