Hillary Clinton
Marc Nozell/flickr

Much is at stake in the 2016 presidential election. Reproductive rights. Democracy and human rights for people of all races, ethnicities and nationalities, including immigrants, refugees and native-born Americans. Criminal justice reform. Enactment of federal fair wage laws. Clean energy and climate change legislation. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality. Escalating college costs and funding for critical early education. Gun control and growing the economy.

Former secretary of state and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has offered detailed policy proposals on these and other pressing issues. Clinton has the raw brainpower and intellect, analytic ability, aptitude and capacity for the hard work ahead. She has a documented record of public service for women, children and families and against discrimination. Moreover, Clinton has the leadership, temperament and experience to guide us in this time when our democratic rights are under attack, especially the right to vote.

This paramount issue is animated by one searing image that explains why I specifically urge African-American voters (like myself) to support and vote for Clinton for president of the United States. The image is of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on what has come to be known as Bloody Sunday. On Bloody Sunday in 1965, Alabama state troopers beat and John Lewis, now a U.S. congressman, and other marchers and nearly killed Lewis. Why were they marching on that bridge? To demand voting rights for African-Americans. Today, our voting rights are still under attack, in the Supreme Court and in some state legislatures and polling places across this great nation.

Students of history know that the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War prompted massive resistance by white segregationists. As Ari Berman describes in “Give Us The Ballot, The Modern Struggle For Voting Rights In America,” African-American voters throughout the South were denied voting rights “first through violence and fraud and then via devices like literacy and good character tests, poll taxes, and stringent residency requirements. … Black voters disappeared seemingly overnight.”

Lewis is a true civil rights hero. His march across Edmund Pettus Bridge and his actions, and those of countless others working to win the right to vote across the South, led ultimately to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

There is no democracy without the right to vote. But the Voting Rights Act is under attack at the state level, as more and more regulations are enacted to prevent African-Americans from registering to vote and from exercising their vote.

How and why? As the result of a 5-4 decision of the United States Supreme Court in 2013 that invalidated a key section of the act. That section contained a formula that determined whether states needed approval to changes in voting law. This resulting lack of oversight has led to a documented depression of voter registration for African-Americans.

Clinton has vowed to automatically register voters, repair the Voting Rights Act and support legislation that restores lost voting rights to Americans who have paid their debt to society in the criminal justice system. In 2015, the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Clinton wrote, “Fifty years after Rosa Parks sat, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched, and John Lewis bled, it’s hard to believe Americans are still forced to fight for their right to vote—especially in places where the civil rights movement fought so hard all those years ago.”

Who is making it harder to vote? Republican governors and legislatures. On what side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge would one find Republican nominee Donald Trump? Maybe that is unfair. But, we do know that he is urging his supporters to serve as poll-watchers to prevent a so-called rigged election. Do these calls signal his endorsement of interfering with voting African-Americans?

Here is some background to consider. Trump’s conduct toward African-Americans has been found to be discriminatory in his leasing practices through Trump management and in his casino operations. Trump supports the widely condemned police practice of so-called stop-and-frisk. Trump cavalierly retweets racially offensive messages from white supremacists. In February, when asked about support the infamous Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, Trump said, “I just don’t know anything about him.” Earlier, he added fuel to the fire of the so-called birther movement against President Barack Obama – a racist lie that Trump perpetuated until this September.

And there is more. Trump supports so-called law and order. But he refused to accept judicial exoneration of the Central Park Five, a group of African-American men wrongly convicted as youths in New York City. He seems to view African-Americans as criminals. Indeed, in 2015, Trump tweeted an inflammatory image that made various specious and untrue statistical claims, including that blacks kill 81 percent of white homicide victims. In fact, it is really 15 percent, according to the FBI. This bogus figure of 81 percent was apparently designed to stoke fear of African-Americans, and was essentially a racist non-fact to fit a racist narrative.

Finally, Trump seeks African-American votes by asking us to believe that we are “living lives of utter desperation,” as the New York Times put it. He went even further with this pandering propaganda with a tweet that said, “Inner-city crime is reaching record levels. African-Americans will vote for Trump because they know I will stop the slaughter going on!”

I suspect that the African-American crowds I stood shoulder to shoulder with while touring the exhibits at the occasion of the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture a few weekends ago would disagree. Those crowds, from cities and towns across the nation reflected what was on display: accomplished achievement, dignity, confidence, pride, power, triumph, self-fulfillment and yes, material affluence and success.

We owe Rep. John Lewis a debt of gratitude for his commitment to justice. Lewis has endorsed Clinton. I am with him, and I am with her. More importantly, I am voting for Clinton because I fervently believe that she is with me, and that she is with us on the side of right.