April 7th, 2008
07:41 PM ET

All I want for my 18th birthday is a 'voter registration card'

On Saturday, my wife and I walked through the National Civil Rights Museum, and nothing was more moving to me than to see the wall honoring those killed during the movement. And what so powerful was that most of them were killed over the right to vote.

Forgive me if I don't have any patience for those who continue to suggest that voting doesn't matter. Sorry if I offend any African American who proudly proclaims they don't care about voting and they get a verbal pimp slap for being so callous, stupid and ignorant.

Walking through that museum only reaffirmed in me why voting is the most precious thing we all could do. There was a quote on one of the walls where a young lady said all that she wanted was a voter registration card for her 18th birthday. Can you imagine that? It wasn't a car, a wad of cash or the latest designer clothes. For her, it was all about that voter registration card.

And then I visited the room where King stayed when he was killed in Memphis. With Mahalia Jackson softly singing from the speakers King's favorite song, "Precious Lord," I couldn't help but stop and look out the window to the spot where King was killed, and then across the street, where some 200 feet away the shot that felled him was fired. I'll never forget one old black woman in front of me shaken by the sight, declaring, "Oh, Lord Jesus!" She then walked over to a display on King's last day and just knelt and prayed. You just don't forget moments like that.

I don't care if you are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, from Texas or New York or Chicago, you need to make that trek to Memphis. And then consider some of the other civil rights monuments and museums in Birmingham, Atlanta and other southern cities.

I have 13 nieces and nephews, and I can guarantee you that before any of them turn 18 – they range in age from six months to 11 years old – they will visit these places. I will see to that.

What we know of in our history books is nothing – NOTHING – compared to seeing with our own eyes. Watching a movie or DVD pales in comparison to standing in the same places where our ancestors walked, fought and yes, died.

Memphis was a battleground in this war against Jim Crow and the vestiges of slavery. Birmingham was a battle in this war. Selma and Montgomery were battlegrounds in this war. And just like the Civil War, it may have been won, but the lingering feelings about the outcomes continue. Just do the math. From the first time a slave landed on this ground in 1619 to present day, African Americans have only truly been free from racial oppression 38 (assuming 1970 as the starting point) out of 389 years.

Now it's time for this generation to stand on the front lines and say, "It's our time to fight. It's our time to lead."

– Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor

Comments to the 360° blog are moderated. What does that mean?

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Spider

    Roland I just loved reading all of your comments.You are so real in discussing the racial issues that do still divide our world.I look forward to watching you on CNN and discussing the primary election and other issues when you defend of African American rights because you brake them down that afterwards you are very informed.I also listen to you on Tom Joyner morning show.Please keep up the good work.I have all my friends and family watching you too!

    April 8, 2008 at 7:17 pm |
  2. Deb (NY)


    I watch you all the time and really love your passion and fire when in the midst of making a point.
    I am now 48 but remember voting as soon as I was able to. It gave me such a sense of power (even if only for a very short period of time). I just pray you all get "the" wonderful feeling.

    April 8, 2008 at 3:16 pm |
  3. C.Ballard

    Subject: FYI

    In 1961, a young African-American man, after hearing President John F. Kennedy's challenge to, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," gave up his student deferment, left college in Virginia and voluntarily joined the Marines.
    In 1963, this man, having completed his two years of service in the Marines, volunteered again to become a Navy corpsman. (They provide medical assistance to the Marines as well as to Navy personnel.)
    The man did so well in corpsman school that he was the valedictorian and became a cardiopulmonary technician. Not surprisingly, he was assigned to the Navy's premier medical facility, Bethesda Naval Hospital, as a member of the commander in chief's medical team, and helped care for President Lyndon B. Johnson after his 1966 surgery.
    For his service on the team, which he left in 1967, the White House awarded him three letters of commendation.
    What is even more remarkable is that this man entered the Marines and Navy not many years after the two branches began to become integrated.
    While this young man was serving six years on active duty, Vice President Dick Cheney, who was born the same year as the Marine/ sailor, received five deferments, four for being an undergraduate and graduate student and one for being a prospective father.
    Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both five years younger than the African-American youth, used their student deferments to stay in college until 1968. Both then avoided going on active duty through family connections.
    Who is the real patriot? The young man who interrupted his studies to serve his country for six years or our three political leaders who beat the system? Are the patriots the people who actually sacrifice something or those who merely talk about their love of the country?
    After leaving the service of his country, the young African-American finished his final year of college, entered the seminary, was ordained as a minister, and eventually became pastor of a large church in one of America's biggest cities.
    This man is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retiring pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.

    April 8, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  4. Melina

    I agree with the people who commented above me. The first thing I did when I turned 18 was register to vote. I am 37 now, the first presidential election I could vote in was 1992. I have voted in every one since. If you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain. My son is 15 and he is excited that he will be old enough to vote in the next presidential election.

    Great story!

    Melina – Gilbert, AZ

    April 8, 2008 at 1:18 pm |
  5. Slater

    I think it is important to listen to people when they say their vote does not matter. It is not that they do not want to vote, it is that they feel the system is bigger than them; that for all their effort the votes that are counted most are not the popular vote.
    The Bush elections are a perfect example of this. Regardless of the popular vote, he was seated in office. There is a hint of this with Florida and Michigan votes in this election. It really is discerning.

    I can see where morale has sunk quite low among individual Americans. I don't blame them, however I urge them to get educated and vote so we can change the system.

    April 8, 2008 at 12:18 pm |
  6. Tina

    It is really sad. I'm glad I didn't live through that era. I was born in 71 and never knew anyone who was mean to black people. Thankfully.
    I know it happened.

    I hate the fact that Mississippi, my home state, gets such a bad name. Mississippi people , blacks and whites, have come a long way , baby. We all get along fine, by george.

    April 8, 2008 at 12:07 pm |
  7. Katherine

    I too, many years ago, registered to vote on my eighteenth birthday. Isn't that the most exciting thing- to know that you can be part of the process? Don't let the teasing of your classmates and friends get you down. . My vote is one of my most precious possessions and I don't give it lightly. Niether should you. Just remember to think about your issues and find a candidate that is in line with your thinking.

    April 8, 2008 at 11:48 am |
  8. mourye

    Does the current Adminadstration has the power to cancel the election and stay in power. If so how and what could be the reason for doing so. But it wouldn't suprise me he can invade a country when he wants.

    April 8, 2008 at 11:27 am |
  9. Peggy T. in MO.

    What would happen if there was an entire week, starting with Sunday ending on Sunday to vote? My husband has brought this idea up because there seems to be such long lines to vote when it's limited to one day. There are people due to their jobs are unable to vote untill the end of the work week. Some people have jobs that take them out of town. His idea is that giving people an entire week to vote would give every one a fair & equal chance to vote. What do your viewers think of this idea? What do the candiates think of this idea? Thanks, Peggy T. in MO.

    April 8, 2008 at 1:35 am |
  10. ann

    I am proud to say that we have three college aged children all actively participating in this election.

    They understand the importance of stepping up and helping this country select a strong leader that will tackle all our issues.

    A leader that will bring our troops home and retore our reputation in the eyes of our International Neighbors. A leader that has the strength to stand up and doesn't sway because he or she is scared of how it will affect them politically.

    Our Nation is in deep trouble and we don't have the luxury of getting it wrong, like millions did when they voted for Bush.

    I am however, saddened at how some of our people are acting during this election. It's as if we have forgotten what MLK was truly about.

    You see my children are African American and are voting for Hillary. In the black community that is almost equivalent to being part of the KKK, the verbal assaults and bullying that is spread nationwide is extremely dissappointing and will only take us back 50 years.

    Did we not fight to have a right to vote ....for whom ever we choose?
    Did we not fight to have a right to vote ....without harrassment?

    We are becoming the bullys and ignorant people we marched and fought against.

    My children have endured this bullying and have seen the sadness of reverse discrimination within our own community.

    However, they stand strong and determined to make a statement that they have a right and responsibility to vote for whom ever they choose, even in an environment that is trying to stifle their vote.

    It is our children who will shape the character of this great nation......... Let's just hope that they pick wisely.

    April 8, 2008 at 1:06 am |
  11. donnetta stott

    the truth will st everyone free! so stop hating and start apprieating our candidates I believe a lady always knows when to leave, and may the best man win. and i pray everyone who can will get out and vote because your vote does matter and the truth is there are no more excuses for te socalled ingnorant people not to vote for its just plain stupid

    April 8, 2008 at 12:56 am |
  12. brittany, parker co


    This made me smile. I turned 18 last October and, to much teasing from my buddies, the first thing I did was register to vote. I was SO excited. Super Tuesday, I was at the caucus. Voting does matter and I can't understand people who say otherwise, either. The right to vote has been one that has been fought for for so many years. Seems a waste not to exercise that right. Anyway, I was happy to see this. Hope life is good.

    April 7, 2008 at 11:25 pm |
  13. Annie Kate


    In Birmingham, at least at the schools my children attend, the civil rights museum here is one of the required school outings in one or two of the grades. Also, many of the scout troops include it in on their list of troop outings. Its not just the children either – the place where I worked also encouraged work teams to include it as one of their team building activities for the year.

    My spouse grew up in Birmingham and he heard the bomb go off at the 16th Baptist church as well as other bombings that went on during that period. I was young and not yet in high school when all the civil rights activities with Dr. King were happening, but I remember them like they were yesterday. Going to the Civil Rights museum here was one of the most emotionally impactive places I have been. I wish everyone would make an opportunity to visit it;

    Its encouraging that the young are so enthusiastic about getting their voters card to vote – perhaps with their help we can finish some of the work Dr. King started.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 7, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  14. JIM

    This will be the first Presidential Election I will be participating in, but when I was 17.5, I made it my business to make sure they got my information so when I turned 18, I got my voter registration card in the mail. Nevertheless, it is our constitutional right and our duty to vote in all elections, because Freedom is not Free and our voting is because of those that fought in foreign countries and on the homeland to secure that right for all Americans no matter race, creed, or ethnicity.


    April 7, 2008 at 9:49 pm |
  15. Cassie


    I think u are the one person who reports all sides not just one. I am white and I am glad African Americans have the same rights I wonder at times how I would feel if I was in there position. I also think that we still have alot of work to do as a nation where we need to be equal on all footing not one or the other. I am 24 I registered this year because of the garbage in Washington and I'm tried of the same old thing I really want change for the better. This country needs to be taken in a new direction which is mending the things that divide us and things that all of us want.

    April 7, 2008 at 9:38 pm |
  16. Kent, Illinois

    The history books our children study are so watered down they give no real representation of history as it really was. Truly shameful. If everyone actually knew history as it relates to race and civil rights we might be alittle farther along than we are.........though this year in politics is exceptional.

    April 7, 2008 at 8:46 pm |
  17. Christianna

    After reading this, I put that museum on my list of places to go. It sounds thoroughly amazing. I'm busy dying that I can't vote this year, but like that other girl, all I really want for my 18th birthday is my voter's card.
    (For now, I guess I'm stuck educating my of-age friends as to who they should vote for...)
    Thanks for the powerful post!
    –Chrissy, NYC

    April 7, 2008 at 7:56 pm |
  18. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    It makes me so angry to hear people say they aren't going to vote because their vote doesn't matter. Every vote matters.

    When someone discussing politics with me starts complaining about the government and how it's run, the first thing I ask them is if they vote. If they say no, then I don't want to hear any of their complaints because they are part of the problem.

    April 7, 2008 at 7:50 pm |