Blog Post

Let’s Talk: About the Grandfather Clause

By Conference Minister Diane Weible

This is the first part in a series about impressions and thoughts from the trip I took to Alabama with the other Conference Ministers in November. We visited Civil Rights sites in Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham.

When I was a child, the term “Grandfather Clause” always bothered me. But, not for the reasons it should have bothered me.

Whenever someone says, “It was Grandfathered in…” or mentions, “the Grandfather clause,” I quickly say, “Grandparent—It was Grandparented in” or “the Grandparent clause”. I have always been proud of my correction of what I considered to be a sexist term.

Then, I went to Birmingham and I started reading and listening. And, I learned. I learned that just before the turn of the 20th century, not too long after the emancipation of slaves in this country, our government leaders enacted a law that stated you could only register to vote if you could read and write. And then, in order to make sure that white voters who never learned to read or write would not be affected by this law, they created the “Grandfather Clause.” This clause said that the exception to this new law would be made for any person whose grandfather was allowed to vote. In other words, it was a voter suppression law to make sure that people of color would be excluded from voting.

If you were white, whether are not you were able to read and write, you could vote. If you were a former slave you would be prohibited from voting. It was a continuation of slavery in another form.

I turned to one of my colleagues and said, “I will never use that phrase again.”

I always thought slavery ended with the end of the Civil War. What I learned in Alabama, and will continue to share in future “Let’s Talk” articles, is that slavery did not end. It evolved. And it continues to exist today. We have a lot more work to do if we are going to dismantle racism and white privilege. Awareness is a first step.

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