Remembering The Role of Norfolk in the Fight for Voting Rights

Posted by Kenny Alexander on March 23, 2016

Friends, this week we mark the 50th anniversary of a landmark voting rights case that began right here in Norfolk, Virginia.

On March 24, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the onerous poll tax, declaring: “wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process.”

The heroes in this case were two courageous Norfolk residents, Evelyn T. Butts, a Norfolk seamstress and voting rights champion, and her lawyer, Joseph A. Jordan Jr., a noted civil rights attorney who later was elected to the Norfolk City Council.

Photos: the Oakwood Chapel Church in Norfolk has a small permanent exhibit about Evelyn Butts and the poll tax, and the church is at the corner of Evelyn T. Butts Avenue and Avenue E in Norfolk.

The 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution already had removed the poll tax from federal elections, but the lawsuit filed by Evelyn Butts led to banning this discriminatory tax from state and local elections – a victory that benefited all Americans.

Evelyn Butts and Joe Jordan are gone now, but let’s remember them on this day as well as contemplate the importance of voting rights in our democracy. Norfolk’s Evelyn Butts and Joe Jordan defeated the poll tax, but other obstacles to voting rights remain. We always need to be vigilant – and we need to vote and remind others to vote in every election.

We cannot rest on past victories and accomplishments, no matter how great. Evelyn Butts knew that. After the Supreme Court struck down the poll tax, she immediately organized a voter registration drive that signed up thousands of Norfolk residents.

Thank you, Evelyn Butts, and thank you, Joe Jordan. Your great work continues to inspire and motivate us.

Read more about the U.S. Supreme Court case <HERE>

Get details on local “Let’s All Vote!” Activities in Norfolk April 2-3 <