As we approach the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, we recognize the significance of reflecting on his life and commemorating his legacy. His work allows us to experience freedoms that did not previously exist for minorities. Because of Dr. King, we have a platform to motivate and activate change. It’s our turn.
Be part of the social conversation using the hashtag #MLK50. Our commemoration of Dr. King motivates others to push for equality in the way he and other civil rights activists did years ago.
Your thoughts, ideas and stories matter. Join the conversation, and submit your story - we'll be featuring stories throughout the commeroration here and on our social networks using #MLK50.
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On June 4, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, two months after Dr. King's assassination. Historians believe the combination of these two deaths was a "capstone to a year marked by angry demonstrations, political violence, and a degree of polarization that foreshadowed the dark divisions of our own time."
An incredible part of the African American Civil Rights journey is the important role that young activists have to play - activists that are younger than the age of 18.
It's no secret that neighborhoods with abundant economic resources and businesses have better schools, more job opportunities, less crime and thrive on government-funded developments. It's also no secret that you can find the poorly funded schools and closed businesses in urban neighborhoods with people of color.
As we look toward commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's death, it is important to look at the status of economic equity in the last 50 years, since that was his critical focus towards the end of his life.
It was a stormy day, on February 1, 1968 in Memphis when two African-American sanitation workers seeking refuge from the rain were crushed in the malfunctioning trash compactor of their garbage truck .
By 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) believed there were major achievements in the battle for civil rights stunted by poor living conditions that many African Americans systemically endured. In the summer of 1967, Dr. King visited Marks, MS, one of the poorest areas in the country, and decided it was time for a national poor people's movement.
While education may not be a "fundamental right" under the Constitution, the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment requires that when a state establishes a public school system, no child living in that state may be denied equal access to schooling.
During the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement celebrated a milestone with the passage of Brown v. Board of Education which ruled segregated schools were unconstitutional for discriminating against students of color.
Whether you are just graduating from high school or looking for a stable career, choosing between a two-year or four-year educational program is a complicated decision.
Choosing the School that is Right for You!
U.S. Navy firefighter, Terrence Johnson, honored Dr. King during a commemoration ceremony aboard Naval Support Activity Mid-South, 20 miles north of Memphis.
Thank you Mr. Johnson for your service to our country and for your participation in the MLK Jr. Commemoration.
“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe. Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.”
This is the first line from one of my favorite books -Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison.
I was asked to talk a little about what motivates me to do the work I do. First, let me briefly describe what my organization, the St. Louis Minority Business Council, does. Basically, we are a non-profit economic development organization that is dedicated to creating a climate in the business community that will make purchasing from Minority Business Entrepreneurs (MBEs) a normal corporate practice. We work to create a user-friendly business climate that will increase business opportunities for minority firms as well as enhance economic development in the bi-state region.
Now a little bit about what motivates me to do this work…
I was born and raised in Memphis, TN and one of my first memories was the events of the spring of 1968.
February 1, 1968, Memphis, TN. The Memphis press covered the birth announcement of Lisa Marie Pressley, who was born at 5:01 pm. Also, that same day Echol Cole and Robert Walker were pronounced dead at John Gaston Hospital.
I would guess that many of you have heard of Lisa Marie Presley, but not many have heard of Echol Cole and Robert Walker.
The bodies of Mr. Cole and Mr. Walker were crushed in the back of a garbage compressor truck that malfunctioned while they sought shelter from the rain. City rules did not allow them to seek shelter from rain anywhere but the back of their trucks.
The death of these two men led to the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike. The “I Am a Man” posters from that strike are now iconic symbols of the civil rights movement and summed up the basic message behind the movement, that is very similar to the “black lives matter” movement of today.
What these sanitation workers were saying was that they were human beings and worthy of being treated with the same dignity as any other person, regardless of their skin color.
If you know your history, you know that Dr. King came to Memphis during that spring to support these workers in their quest to be recognized as deserving of basic human rights and dignity.
One ideal that was a basis for much of Dr. King’s work was, what he referred to as the “Beloved Community.” One of his ministry goals was to create a “beloved community.” He said this would “require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
This new place/community would be a place where new relations come into being between the oppressed and the oppressor, the powerful and the powerless. It would be characterized by redemption and reconciliation, where we live together as “brothers in a community, and not continually live with bitterness and friction.” He concluded that within the beloved community “poverty, hunger, homeless are not tolerated because our standards of human decency and flourishing will not tolerate it.”
I believe one of the best ways to combat community poverty and economic disparities is through helping minority businesses to expand and grow. I believe that if we can build a more equitable regional economy, the entire region will benefit. But it begins with seeing the “invisible.”
In a song to support the RED campaign to fight against AIDS in Africa, the boys from Dublin - U2 – released a song that proclaims the same sentiment of seeing those who are seemingly invisible, but who as Ellison would put it have “substance, of flesh and bone, of fiber and liquids.” I would conclude with the chorus from the song:
I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
More than you let me be
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible
I was sitting in the modest congregation at Unity Santa Fe as the choir director, Catherine, began a powerful rendition of We Shall Overcome, a tribute to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the day before the 2018 national holiday honoring him. Her voice evoked a quiet passion, as if she was telling a story that had been recited many times yet was still unrealized. As quick as she began singing, my mind journeyed back almost 50 years, where I saw myself in my childhood home in East Memphis, the evening of April 4, 1968. Within an instant, my eyes began to tear up. Though I was doing everything I could to be present to the music, spirit made clear that it was taking me where it wanted to go regardless how much I resisted.
My family had finished dinner and we were all in the middle of the den floor playing a board game. I was ten years old. My sister was eight and my brothers were six and four. The scene playing out in my head was one of laughter and light hearted banter as each player tossed the dice and counted off their game piece moving forward. A knock on the kitchen door interrupted our family time and my father was first on his feet to see who it was.
“It’s Mickey with the dry cleaning. Honey, get my wallet for me?” Our game came to a halt as my mother headed for their bedroom. Mr. Green came into the den with his delivery in hand and asked my father, “Have you seen the news tonight?”
Draping the clothes over a chair, my father replied, “No, the television hasn’t been on at all.” About that time my mother came back with the wallet and counted out what was owed Mr. Green. Though his back was to me, I heard Mr. Green tell my parents, “Martin Luther King was assassinated this afternoon and downtown Memphis is on fire. There are riots in the streets. And the National Guard is being called up.”
My mother gasped and my father headed toward the television. Mr. Green stopped him, saying “Don’t turn it on with the kids in here.” As they reconvened near the kitchen, I could see their mouths moving though I heard no sounds. I remember sitting on the floor imagining tanks rolling up my street and flames appearing in the sky just a block or so from our house. I had no idea who Mr. King was, or why his being assassinated meant downtown was burning. Truth was, I had no clue what assassinated or rioting meant; and I wasn’t sure where downtown was. Nevertheless, I could sense from the looks on their faces that this was bad. Really, really bad.
Hearing the vocal power of Catherine's voice brought me back to the present as she sang, “We walk hand in hand.” I could tell she was in the moment, clearly seeing the vision of togetherness and knowing within her heart that the day was sure to come. Tears again started down my cheeks, as I recalled the day in 1987 when I first visited The Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was killed. I was there to handle the single task of measuring the window size of the room adjacent to Dr. King’s room where an architectural model of a proposed National Civil Rights Museum was to be placed. The powerful, childhood images from that night in our den, along with the countless photos and news stories I’d seen over the years, raced through my mind as I made the short trip from the office. I was more than a little nervous as I drove into the parking lot. The building was not in the best of shape and the area around it was considered by many to be dangerous. I kept reminding myself that I was safe, having driven most every street in the surrounding miles of downtown many times over the last couple of years as a planning coordinator for the Memphis Center City Commission.
The woman in charge of the project at the Commission had told me to go to the motel’s front desk and ask for Jackie. She warned me that Jackie was not in favor of the museum project and could be harsh to Center City staffers. “Don’t let her antagonize you.” I opened the door to the office where a few people were conversing in a small seating area, however, no one was at the desk. Someone called for Jackie and she appeared through a door behind the counter, “You must be from the Center City Commission.” I replied that I was and after introducing myself, I asked if it was a good time for her to let me in the room. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jacqueline Smith. Now is fine.” She reached for a set of keys as she came around the desk telling no one in particular that she would be back shortly.
As we walked the short distance to a stairway, I had a sense of sadness run up my spine seeing a simple wreath of fading artificial greenery and white flowers hanging on the door to Room 306, which was where Dr. King was staying while he was in town for the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s protest march. There was no talk between us as we walked past his room to number 307. Jackie opened the door and stepped off to the side. I thanked her and walked in to measure the window, the size of the room, and the width and height of the entry door. It only took a couple minutes and as I walked out of the room I thanked her again for her time. As she locked the door she asked if I was from Memphis and if I remembered when Dr. King was assassinated. I told her I did, and as a 10 year old boy from East Memphis I never imagined I would be outside his room, standing on the balcony where he died. In that moment there was a distinct change in the space between us and I felt a connection beginning to form.
Jackie turned from the door, took my hand and moved along the balcony towards Dr. King’s room where she steered me gently down to my knees. She guided my hand to a dark stain on the surface and softly rubbed my palm on the rough concrete walkway. “This is where Dr. King fell when he was shot and the stain is his blood that was never completely cleaned.” Immediately I felt a bolt of lightning run through my spine and my eyes began pouring tears. I couldn’t speak. Jackie said nothing and kept holding my hand as I attempted to regain some composure. She helped me to my feet and in a soft voice asked, “Would you like to go inside Dr. King’s room?”
Still unable to speak, I nodded a yes, and we moved towards Room 306. I looked back over my right shoulder at the stained concrete again, doing my best to deal with everything that was happening in my head, my heart and my body. As the door opened and we walked inside there was a distinct sense of a very welcoming spirit that seemed to wrap around us. The room was small with two beds on the left as we entered; a dresser on the right with a small television on top; and the bathroom straight ahead at the rear. There was a musty smell in the air. The beds were a bit disheveled and Jackie quietly told me, “The room is the same as the day Dr. King died, other than all his personal belongings were removed.” I’m not sure how long we were in the room, all time seemed to stop while we were inside. At some point we walked out, she locked the door and we moved toward the stairway. Neither of us spoke again until we were downstairs at the lobby door. She told me to give her a call if I needed any other measurements and I thanked her for the special tour, though no words could express the gratitude I felt for the experiences she had blessed me with that day.
Returning again to the sanctuary, Catherine’s voice was resounding throughout the room with an expression of beauty and peace. I noticed a woman, sitting a few rows in front of me and across the center aisle, wiping away tears. Another woman a couple of seats away from me was sitting stationary with her eyes closed, as was a man in the row in front of her. They also had tears streaming down their cheeks and I wondered if it was the song or the remembrance of Dr. King that was touching their hearts. Catherine was passionately in the moment and the pianist was hitting the keys with a new fervor. The sanctuary was filled with sound and it was clear that every individual in the room was having their own unique experience. For me, the next images that came through were far from beautiful and peaceful. I hesitated for a moment. I knew that I could always stay with the music, however, I took a deep breath and again went back to Memphis.
It was not long after my visit to the Lorraine that I found myself in the bathroom where James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot. An urban pioneer artist had purchased the building and created a massive studio and gallery space for his work, as well as a living area for him and his wife. I had met him once or twice at South Main Arts District meetings, and was stopping by to deliver some documents for an upcoming South Main residents meeting. After I arrived he filled me in on the history of the building which, of course, brought the Lorraine visit with Jackie front and center in my head. I was stunned when he suggested I take a look out the window where the killer took aim, and yet at the time, I felt I couldn’t refuse. I fought back all sorts of emotions as I looked across the street to the balcony, seeing the wreath still hanging on the door of Room 306. The image in my mind of Dr. King laying on the concrete while people were pointing in the direction of the window became too much for me to handle. After only a few moments I moved away from the window and hastily left the bathroom; somehow managing to say goodbye and make it to my car before sobbing like a child.
Going back and forth between the music and memories had brought me to the edge of a total breakdown. Thankfully, Catherine began singing “We are not afraid,” with her voice filled with a fearless resolve, reminding us all that we have the power to choose love. As I listened, a much needed calm came over me, just in time for another visit back. This part of the journey took place in the late 1990’s, while I was in Memphis to visit family and friends. I had been living in Dallas for some time, and I decided that a visit to the now completed National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel was overdue. I’d driven through the South Main area a number of times on other visits since the museum opened in 1991, however, I never made the time. Admittedly, it was mostly because I was afraid of how I would respond in public.
Even though I’d seen the Museum’s website and was familiar with some of the key exhibits from my time at the Center City Commission, I had no idea what the experience was going to be like as I parked and approached the entrance. Looking up as I opened the door, I noticed a large white wreath, with a spray of red roses across the top, now hanging on the railing in front of Room 306. The minute I moved from the lobby into the exhibit space I felt all my resistance subside and a power-filled resolve come over me.
I recall the transit bus that visitors would enter and be met with demands that “Negroes go to the back of the bus.” It played in my head for weeks, as did the lunch counter exhibit. There my heart pounded while experiencing the harshest screams blasting me as I sat on a stool at the counter, “Get out. We don’t serve niggers here.” The N-word has always been a source of anguish for me and was particularly hurtful that day. I had heard it over and again during my junior year of high school and every time it felt wrong. My senior year was to be the first year of court ordered bussing in Memphis, and more than half my junior class graduated early and attended summer school so as not to be bussed to an inner-city school or be with black students attending our school. The racism I experienced from many of those graduating early was unbelievable. Thankfully, despite being accepted at two private schools, I convinced my family to let me attend my public high school for my senior year. It was a most fulfilling educational experience that I will never forget.
Finally I arrived at the exhibit of Room 306, viewed through a glass wall looking straight at the two beds. I could feel my heart beating harder and faster as I neared the glass wall. I kept telling myself not to faint. Filled with anticipation, I looked into the room and found it was almost exactly as I had seen it the day Jackie had opened the door and we walked inside. So many emotions were running A Song to Remember Wayne Harris February 13, 2018 5 through me as I stood there in quiet sorrow. Suddenly, I felt an arm move around my waist and a hand coming to rest on mine. As I turned I saw a beautiful black woman, dressed like she had just come from a church service. My eyes locked onto hers, and smiling she whispered, “It still gets me too every time I come here. I just can’t believe he is gone but I feel so close to him whenever I stand here.” I was desperate to tell her my story, though somehow it seemed right to stand with her and accept the words of comfort and connection. We were, after all, joined as one in that moment.
Later as I walked to my car, I noticed a small table across the street with a blue tarp over it and a bundled up black woman sitting with a thermos and all sorts of pamphlets spread out. It was Jackie. I had heard that she had been on the street protesting the development of the museum since construction began, contending that Dr. King would not have wanted a museum built but rather housing for those most in need. Seeing her continued resolve was inspiring. She looked up and smiled as I approached the table. I returned the smile and said, “You may not remember but we met a number of years ago.”
“Yes we did. I don’t recall your name but I do remember the day you came to measure the room next to Dr. King’s for the model.” She stood and walked around the table, reaching out to give me a hug. We visited for a couple of minutes before others came up to her table and she excused herself to speak with them. As I turned to leave with the tears coming on, I smiled in her direction. She looked up and returned the gesture with a knowing smile of her own.
My journey through We Shall Overcome was almost finished and my memories of Dr. King’s death in Memphis had touched my heart anew. Arriving into the present moment, I heard Catherine launch into the final chorus. It was a heartfelt prayer for a world yet to come. “We are not afraid. We all live in peace. We shall overcome, some sweet day.” The congregation gave her a standing ovation. The minister stepped forward as everyone was taking their seats. “I can’t imagine there are any dry eyes in this place after that performance, Catherine. I’ve been crying since the first verse. Thank you.” I wiped my eyes, as were many others around me. Fortunately, there were a couple of minutes before the message, as the minister was readying the lectern. It gave me just enough time to silently express my gratitude for the song, for the memories and the amazing blessings I received along the way.
I was inspired to write this poem, "A Black and White World" after a recent visit to the National Civil Rights Museum. As I walked through the museum, I felt grateful for everything that the elders (like Dr. King) did to make this world a better place for us, but I also realized that their work isn't finished. As a generation, we must continue the fight for our civil rights or else hatred will muster up the strength to rear its ugly head and send us right back to square one. I hope my reflectional poem reminds everyone of this truth.
I cried as I walked into the Civil Rights Museum yesterday, thinking
2,000 years ago, my savior was crucified.
200 years ago, my ancestors were slaves,
beaten till the day they reached their graves.
50 years ago, my grandparents were chased by dogs that seemed to have escaped from the living pits of Hell
now, as I look around,
and see the bodies slain by policemen lying lifeless on the ground,
History repeats itself.
It's an endless cycle that won't be affected by mere innocent tears
You see, every time we break free,
another chain appears.
but nothing ever changes.
I didn't choose to be born.
Didn't choose this place,
and yet, that is all they choose to see.
But it’s what they refuse to see
that is quite amusing to me
They say, “Ignorance is bliss”
I say, “No, it’s blindness”
but I know it’s delicious
easier than turning to see the people crying,
the children dying.
Which is why they keep on lying.
I cried yesterday as I walked into the Museum of Civil Rights
because after everything they did,
the world is still in Black and White.
My grandmother Marianne O'Connor worked with Civil Rights leaders Clara Luper in Oklahoma City to help start the lunch counter movement there. Her daughter, my aunt Lora, has brought me to many civil rights and social justice actions. I love the music at Schools Not Prisons events and hope to play someday in an action to help incarcerated youth. [I am] looking forward to coming to Memphis in February and in April!
I was a 14 year old when Dr. King was murdered and I recall attending the ceremony at Crump stadium in which Rev. Hooks’ and Rev. Lawson’s eulogies left me and my father in tears. I have never forgotten and have tried throughout my life to study Dr. King’s message and to teach it to my children and practice it in my life.
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The issue of decent housing is more than the quality of the physical dwelling people live in, but also the surrounding community. In modern America, we are impacted by a legacy of housing policies that affect government funding for schools, community development, quality of life, economic access or wealth, and more.
The United States has roughly 70 million Americans who have been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony. Of course with each conviction, all crimes are different, however regardless of how non-threatening the crime is, these Americans are significantly disadvantaged.
Over 150 cities and 29 states have adopted "Ban the Box," which makes up over two thirds of the U.S. population. To support the continuation of this policy being adopted across the U.S, support your state and local efforts to enact fair-chance policy. Here are a few steps that you can take take to help.
In 1968, Dr. King came to Memphis, to help with the Sanitation Workers Strike. The Memphis garbage collectors were underpaid, overworked, and didn't have proper uniforms or working equipment. Their wages were so low that even though they worked full time, they still qualified for welfare.
The 1968 Sanitation Workers and
Their Fight for Fair Wages
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal." King's philosophy reveals that we achieve the goal of peace through nonviolence.
The first three actions are part of The King Philosophy.
The Same but Different
At some point in their lives, most people will be in the position of seeking employment. Whether a high school or college graduate looking for part-time employment or internship, or an experienced worker embarking on a new career, candidates will likely have resume questions including: What should I have in my resume? How should I format it? What skills should I list? Does the objective really matter? Should I include a cover letter? What length should my resume be?
Getting College and Career Ready: Understanding Resumes and Interviews
Mass incarceration is a major civil rights issue. A primary reason for the surge in the American prison population is the federal law mandating minimum sentencing. Individuals who meet certain stipulations of the law are required to serve a minimum sentence.
How Incarceration Affects Families
According to the Urban Institute, "Many households struggle to afford a decent, safe place to live. Since 2000, rent has risen as the number of renters needing affordable housing has increased.
Think about it. There has been at least one teacher who greatly impacted your life, right? Most of us can recall our favorite teachers because of the way they positively motivated, encouraged and pushed us to reach our potential.
Teachers Make a Difference
Recent census data states there has been a decline in poverty in the U.S. over the last two years.
Go to your library and check out, Almost Home by Kevin Ryan and Tina Kelley. This book tells the stories of six remarkable young people from across the US and Canada, as they cope with life on the streets. Each teen eventually finds his or her way to Covenant House, one of the largest charities serving homeless and runaway youth in North America.
Research shelters in your area that serve teens who are living on the streets. If your parents approve, inquire what you can do to help. This could be a perfect place to deliver care packages.
DoSomething.org for facts and ideas on how YOU can take action to create positive change! Share and discuss this with your peers.
In the fight for economic equity, the gender pay gap - the difference between how much men and women are paid - is a key issue.
No, this commemoration must be a movement that takes us forward. Not just a commemoration, but a commencement, a convocation that leads us to a revolution of moral values.
The United States observes only ten national holidays. Three of those days celebrate individuals: Christopher Columbus Day honors a man who in our civil mythology discovered the Americas, but in reality, there were millions of natives living here long before he arrived. George Washington’s Birthday honors our first President who contributed much to our system of government, but his DNA is also found in America’s original sin of race and slavery.
And every third Monday in January, the nation honors the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Born in Atlanta, Georgia January 15, 1929 and martyred by an assassins’ bullet on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN. Dr. King’s political and religious leadership in the social movements to dismantle segregation and voter disenfranchisement is widely remembered as heroic. But we too often remember only parts of this story.
Exactly one year before his 1968 assassination, Dr. King broke his public silence about his opposition to the escalating war in Vietnam that was claiming unfathomable numbers of lives, particularly the poor. He denounced the war as inseparable from the perpetuation of racism and poverty, domestically and globally. King said that only a ‘revolution of values’ is capable of bringing change on the scale necessary to address “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.” He saw that the nation had the material means to address all three but lacked the moral will to do so, despite the biblical, theological and civil sources that supported such action.
As we prepare to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel and the 50th anniversary of the Poor Peoples Campaign what an opportunity we have been given to find the will and resources to address “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.” What an opportunity we have been given to find the moral center that Dr. King gave his life to and to finish the work of the prophet. There is no better way to honor a prophet than to finish the prophet’s work.
The National Civil Rights Museum, located at the historic Lorraine Motel has determined that the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., assassination cannot be just another commemoration with ceremony that only takes us back. No, this commemoration must be a movement that takes us forward. Not just a commemoration, but a commencement, a convocation that leads us to a revolution of moral values.
As Dr. William Barber of the Moral Monday Movement has said, “what will save our country is not the religious left or the religious right, but the moral center.” We want to find that moral center.
In the past several weeks, the history of the Confederate States of America and its icons have been the center of attention nationwide.
For decades, education advocates have called for reform in our country's education system. Since the early 1980s, the challenge to rethink the model has been brewing, giving prominence to changes in the ecosystem of educational options.
A recent article from Student Loan Hero revealed that the average 2016 college graduates are $37,172 in debt. With student loan debt well into the trillions, many new professional are victims of garnished wages and income taxes.
Let's be honest. The term "blight" has been appropriated to mean the condition of urban, substandard housing in communities of mostly black or brown people who apparently don't care about changing the dismal conditions in which they live.
What is the best way to create effective change, civil disobedience or armed struggle? Like Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used civil disobedience as as a means of effectuating government change on policies and laws that permitted racism, injustice and inequality.
Sixty years since Dr. King made that statement, this nation is still urging its elected officials to make the ballot more accessible. It would be another eight years after this speech, that the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, with an important pre-clearance provision to regulate Southern states that had notoriously implemented Jim Crow laws designed to thwart attempts and violently intimidate or kill African Americans looking to register to vote.