The power of the vote

Election series program discusses the history and politics of the Great Migration


Oct. 6 marked another installment in the political science department’s election series program, “2020 Vision: Contested Political Futures.” This event was co-sponsored by the Africana Studies Program. Muhlenberg’s Lanethea Mathews-Schultz, Ph.D., department chair and professor of political science, interviewed Keneshia Grant, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at Howard University, about the politics of black migration. Grant attended the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

“I came kind of looking to figure out where, you know, black folks on the campus were,” said Grant speaking of her own college experience. “I ended up spending a tremendous amount of time in the library reading the African American Studies portion of the Dewey Decimal System.”

“This election is a crossroads-kind of election, a battle of wits or a battle of beliefs,”

Reading all of those books sparked a question from her family about the Great Migration, the movement of black people from the rural south to the urban north. The narrative around this is usually one of economic opportunity, but there is also political opportunity as well. 

Grant initially did not believe the Great Migration was a political science issue; however, thinking back to the work on political parties by her faculty advisor, she assumed that the relation and interaction between the parties and the new immigrants must have changed the political landscape.

They wanted a place where they could be equal citizens. “Right in the background is the migrants’ idea of themselves as citizens, idea of themselves as equally human,” said Grant. In order to do that, the Black community realized that they needed to be able to participate in the political process.They wanted to get registered to vote almost immediately. Once they were enfranchised after fighting for voting rights, they began getting elected into office as well.

However, Black voters today still do not have equal say in the political process. “Limiting access to the ballot box has become more sophisticated now,” claimed Grant. Voting today is not a cakewalk. Nationwide voter suppression is still occurring.

Many of today’s racial tensions stem from the white northerners’ ignorance and hostility towards the influx of migrants from the south. The over-policing in cities today is a remnant of the police being hostile towards Black migrants.

“Limiting access to the ballot box has become more sophisticated now,”

“[Black Lives Matter] is just another piece in a longer story, longer than I think it needs to be,” replied Grant after being asked about modern issues. 

Grant noted that Democrats need the support of the Black coalition in order to push Joe Biden forward as the frontrunner. The Black community, especially Black women, have traditionally been huge supporters of the Democratic party.

“This election is a crossroads-kind of election, a battle of wits or a battle of beliefs,” said Grant. “It is important I think for me as a voter, [to] observe what these candidates are talking about and then see where this fits with the broader frame that I have.” She recommended approaching this election with a forward thinking vision in order to create a new America.


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