I hadn't intended to write again so soon about the right to vote, but then I took a trip to the Deep South.
My wife and I were on a civil rights tour visiting historic sites in this country's violent, home-grown terrorism to deny basic human rights to its own citizens based on race.
We were at the scene of many of those crimes, including the basement of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls in Sunday School dresses were blown apart by a bomb intended as some kind of statement about the superiority of the white race.
Everywhere we went, we talked with survivors of the struggle for equal rights in America, some whose voices still choked with emotion describing horrific events of 40 years ago.
In a scruffy, overgrown African-American cemetery outside Meridian, Miss., the tombstone of civil rights worker James Chaney is pocked with bullet scars and held upright by a heavy, steel brace as a reminder that racial hatred still lives among us.
Angela Lewis spoke at the gravesite. She was only 10 days old when Chaney, her father, was murdered near Philadelphia, Miss., along with Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, white civil rights workers from the north.
Now, four decades later, a former Klan leader is the first man in Mississippi to be indicted for murder in the killings.
Demonstrating some of the ideals that motivated her father, Lewis asked for prayers not only for her own family reliving their personal tragedy, but also for the defendant, 79-year-old Edgar Ray Killen, and those who love him.
You can't travel through such infamous datelines as Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham and the gothic depths of Mississippi without revisiting murders, outrageous perversions of justice and fire hoses and police dogs being turned on citizens for seeking their rights.
We walked across Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, where marchers were beaten by Alabama state troopers on "Bloody Sunday." We stood at the murder scenes of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and others.
Ed King, the former white chaplain at historically black Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., believes he and other civil rights workers were stopped just a few days earlier by the same Klansmen who murdered Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman.
King's group escaped by convincing the Klansmen that a Pakistani driver was a member of the Indian parliament, who had recently become national news when he was refused service in a Southern restaurant.
White Southerners at the time felt free to murder local African Americans and white sympathizers, but they didn't want to bring the power of the federal government down upon themselves with an international incident.
Many of us might imagine being caught in such a terrifying situation during those violent times. What we cannot quite imagine is having the courage to keep putting ourselves back into those situations voluntarily.
That was the case with Hollis Watkins, a former organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who was jailed repeatedly as he worked for years to register black voters in rural Mississippi.
He described his jailers threatening him with guns, dogs and, once, a rope already tied into a noose. A gentle, sweet man in his 60s, Watkins is still working for civil rights, fighting funding cuts to public schools in Mississippi.
Republicans in Madison who are trying to throw up obstacles to disenfranchise minorities would not like to think of themselves as modern-day versions of the illiterate thugs who blew up black churches and murdered civil rights workers in the '50s and '60s.
For the most part, they may not be motivated by explicit racism. They are merely seeking petty political advantage. The end justifies the means just as it did four years ago when Florida officials blocked every minority vote they could to put into office a president who came in second nationally.
At the very least, Republicans who seek to add requirements to make voting more difficult for African Americans and Latinos display a callous lack of regard for the monumental struggle and the lives that were lost to win the vote for racial minorities.
They're as willfully ignorant as the grande dame of Birmingham in a CBS-TV documentary from the '50s re-broadcast in one of the civil rights museums we visited.
Denying racial prejudice in Birmingham, the society matron proudly noted a black school child had won a citywide art contest. Of course, by law, the black child wasn't allowed into the public library to see the display of his winning entry.
All it took was a couple of phone calls from the important woman to get special permission for the black child and his family to enter the library after hours to view the honor bestowed upon his work. If requiring photo IDs doesn't turn away enough minority voters, we can always go back to the dogs and fire hoses.
Joel McNally of Milwaukee writes a weekly column for The Capital Times. E-mail: email@example.com
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