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American Voices: Bernard Lafayette on voting rights

Bernard Lafayette thought his days fighting for minority voting rights were over. The demonstrations done, the battle won. But now he’s not so sure. Not after more than a dozen states passed laws designed to eliminate voter fraud — many of them requiring voters to produce photo IDs. That might make perfect sense. But Lafayette says there’s a big problem: As many as 25 percent of African-Americans don’t have a photo ID, including city kids and the rural poor who never got a driver’s license.

He believes the new laws will make it more difficult for African-Americans to vote, just as it was in the Old South.

Lafayette has already paid a steep price for his commitment to equal voting rights. He was arrested in Jackson, Miss., in 1961, along with other freedom riders. In 1963, after registering black voters in Selma, Ala., he was beaten by a white stranger. Two years later in 1965, he was at the voting rights march in Selma that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Now, nearly 50 years later, he’s once again committing himself to his cause.

Today, Lafayette and other civil rights leaders are actively working to get more college students to vote and to get elderly African-Americans the photo IDs they don’t have. Just like he and the other freedom riders did a half-century ago.