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Elzena Johnson, 97, Delegate Who Voted for FDR, Remembers Poll Tax

September 6, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ray Suarez talks to first-time delegate from Mississippi Elzena Johnson about growing up in a Democratic household in the South and casting her first vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: The oldest delegate at this Democratic Convention is 97, turning 98 later this month.

Elzena Johnson cast her first vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936. She’s attending her first convention.

And, last night, she announced the roll call for her home state of Mississippi.

ELZENA JOHNSON, Delegate: Number of votes from Mississippi was 42.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For?

ELZENA JOHNSON: For Barack Obama.

GWEN IFILL: Ray caught up with Elzena Johnson last night on the floor.

RAY SUAREZ: I’m with the oldest delegate to the Democratic National Convention this year, 97 years young, Elzena Johnson.   

And, Ms. Johnson, at an age when a lot of people would rather be watching this at home, you decided to come to Charlotte. Why?

ELZENA JOHNSON: Oh, yes.

I just wanted to be closer. I would be with the group, the excitement of it. And I just enjoy the speakers. I want to hear what they say. And just I can get it better being…

RAY SUAREZ: Why did you feel it was important to be selected as a delegate and be a part of this process? A lot of people your age are taking it easy.

ELZENA JOHNSON: Well, I did not think about why they accepted me. I just accepted it, and because I felt like that was an honor.

RAY SUAREZ: Tell me what you remember about the Democratic Party and about elections during tougher times, the ’30s, the ’40s, Depression, war.

ELZENA JOHNSON: You know, we didn’t have TV, and we didn’t have as much communication. So you didn’t hear too much difference.

I grew up in a Democrat home, my mother and daddy, and I didn’t know anything but Democrat. And my daddy would always — they wanted to vote each time. And he’d always come in. He was a farmer. And he’d always come in, him and my mother, $4 — maybe it was $4 — $2 each to pay the poll tax. If they were not due then — he was afraid, when they came due, he wouldn’t have it, because they wanted to vote so much.

RAY SUAREZ: A lot of people don’t remember that poor people had to find a couple of dollars that they could scrape together to be able to vote.

ELZENA JOHNSON: Yes. He took it out of his pocket. He made us a good living.

We had a big farm that had tendered hands on the farm. He wasn’t — we were all right, you know, as far as finances. But he always took that money and gave to momma. I remember that so much. And then when they were — it was time to vote, he would get the buggy out and put the horses to it, and momma and daddy would go off to vote.

And, you know, we didn’t understand, little children, why they were doing it, and we’d cry because, why was momma and daddy going? You know, they stayed at home with us. They didn’t go like parents do now. But, of course, you know, most of them now take the children with them.

RAY SUAREZ: By Election Day this year, Elzena Johnson will be 98 years old, and I would guess one of the oldest people to cast a vote in her county in Mississippi.

Thanks a lot, Ms. Johnson.

ELZENA JOHNSON: Thank you so much.