My grandmother was a schoolteacher in Winona, Miss., back when black folks knew that trying to vote would cost them their jobs. She was so fearful of retribution that she didn’t want Aunt Pearlie’s boyfriend, a young civil rights activist, hanging around on the front porch. She was afraid that people would recognize him.
After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, a few of her colleagues registered. But it was not until Martin Luther King’s last campaign — a procession of mules plodding from Marks, Miss., to Atlanta — that she fully embraced the vote. The mules arrived at Winona’s courthouse, wearing signs that read, “I have been to the mountaintop.” Grandma Jones invited some of the young activists to sleep at her house for the night. A few months later, she cast the first ballot of her life, at age 46.