Most of you are already aware of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This original, unrevised legislation prevented states and municipalities from restricting voting rights of minority populations. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act resulted in the mass enfranchisement of racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.
The following Southern states and jurisdictions were brought into coverage under the original formula contained within the unrevised Voting Rights Act: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, and forty counties in North Carolina. Without the permission of the U. S. Department of Justice, none of the above could make any changes in voting dates, places or anything that would confuse voters. My late brother, Giles W. Bryant, who was an assistant attorney general of Mississippi, was the Mississippi official responsible for reporting to the Justice Department in the 1980’s and 1990’s on matters concerning the Voting Rights Act.
One summer in the 1990’s (I believe), Mississippi had a statewide election scheduled. Everything was ready when it was announced that there was a hurricane in the Gulf, and most of the experts were forecasting that it was headed for the eastern part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, i.e. Pascagoula, with storm conditions reaching as far west as New Orleans. The powers-that-be in Mississippi went into panic mode. Should they close all of the polls in Mississippi? Should they just close the ones on the Coast? How and when should the election be rescheduled? There was to be a meeting in the governor’s office with my brother assigned to make the call to the Justice Department. Before the meeting, my brother called our mother and me here in New Orleans. I gave him an up-to-date weather report. He told us about the election problem. All of a sudden, Nash Roberts came on TV. I turned the sound up so that we all, including my brother, could hear his forecast. Nash The Flash, with his marker, drew the trajectory of the storm, according to his calculations. It bypassed Mississippi and, according to Nash, was going to make landfall on the Gulf side of the panhandle of Florida.
A little later my brother attended the meeting in the governor’s office and reported to all in attendance that Nash Roberts had said that the storm would not affect Mississippi but was headed for Florida. All of the officials from the Coast nodded and looked relieved. Then they all had to convince the others in the room (not from the Coast) that if Nash said it, that was how it was going to be. Then, my brother called the Justice Department and told them that Mississippi was going ahead with her elections, and there would be no interruptions. The Justice Department didn’t seem to understand how Mississippi knew, but they were o.k. with it. Not one person in that room, who had lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and who had watched Nash Roberts during hurricane season, had any doubt. And the storm did exactly what Nash Roberts said it was going to do!