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One Woman's Tale: From Poll Tax to Presidential Candidate

Lorraine Bell had been planning for some time exactly what she would do should the day ever come that an African American would be in the running for president. She would bring with her a receipt for a poll tax her grandmother had paid in 1937 in Mississippi for an election that she was too frightened to vote in.

Today, on a long-awaited and "exhilarating" day, Bell finally had that chance.

She and her family arrived at their voting precinct in Bowie around 7:30 a.m. They would wait in line for two hours to cast their votes for Sen. Barack Obama. And just before the line snaked its way into the building, Bell and her two grown daughters held aloft the faded and yellowing poll tax receipt and posed for a photo.

"It was very emotional," Bell said. "We felt that not only were we voting for ourselves, but we were voting for my grandparents and for all the African Americans who were ever denied the vote."

The receipt is made out to Bell's grandmother, Georgia Bardley, for $3.00, and signed by the Knoxubee County, Mississippi sheriff. Bell grew up with stories of poll taxes and literacy tests and how her grandfather, despite being an educated schoolteacher who was often asked to help white teachers prepare for exams, was never able to vote.

"They paid their poll taxes. They took whatever tests they had to, but they never could vote," Bell said. "The family owned a farm and a store and I think they were intimidated. They were afraid someone would come and burn down the store if they voted."

After her grandfather's death, the family moved to St. Louis. And though her mother never had a problem voting, Bell was taught early on never to take it for granted.

"This is an historic election," she said. "There's a sense of great price. A sense of hope that race relations in this country are changing. We definitely believe in Barack Obama's message of hope and unity. And the fact that we were able to vote for him today is evidence of how far this nation has come."

-- Brigid Schulte

By Philip Rucker  |  November 4, 2008; 5:58 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Elections  
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Next: After Work, Voters Race to Polls in Gaithersburg

Comments

God bless Lorraine, but it would have been smarter to show up in the evening (about 6). The polls had cleared out by that time. In the morning, there were lines around the block. I had to assume people enjoy lines based on my experience today.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | November 4, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse

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