The Fight to Vote: Black Voter Suppression in Tennessee premieres Monday, Feb. 22, at 8 p.m. on NPT with an encore broadcast Sunday, Feb. 28, at 6:30 p.m.; streaming at video.wnpt.org. Focusing mainly on the challenges poor and Black people faced getting access to the ballot box in the decades after the Civil War, the half-hour documentary aims to encourage discussions about voting rights today.
The right to vote in Tennessee has been uneven, inconsistent and contested since statehood. Tennessee was the first Southern state to grant African American men the vote, but the last to ratify the 15th Amendment declaring the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. In that year, 1997, Tennessee was ranked as the 10th easiest state in which to vote; in 2020, the state ranked 46th.
Among the stories told in The Fight to Vote: Black Voter Suppression in Tennessee is that of Elbert Williams, a member of the NAACP in 1940s Haywood County who lost his life as a result of his efforts to register African American voters. The documentary also traces suppression efforts into the 1960s, when Black sharecroppers took shelter in tents after being evicted for attempting to vote.
The Fight to Vote: Black Voter Suppression in Tennessee is the latest of NPT’s Citizenship Project documentaries, which show how different groups have fought for, obtained and maintained the rights and access we commonly associate with American citizenship. These include the right to vote, the right to receive a public education, the right to be considered equal before the law, and the right to worship one’s religion of choice. Ed Jones produced the documentary; his previous Citizenship Project film was 2019’s Emmy-winning Soldier & Citizen.
Historians and others appearing in the documentary are Carole S. Bucy, Ph.D., professor of history, Volunteer State Comm. College; author Chris DeRose (The Fighting Bunch); author and historian G. Wayne Dowdy; Jim Emison, retired attorney; Daphene R. McFerren, executive director, Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, University of Memphis; and Linda T. Wynn, Ph.D., assistant director for state programs, Tennessee Historical Commission.
Additional broadcast times for The Fight to Vote: Black Voter Suppression in Tennessee are Sunday, Feb, 28, at 6:30 p.m. on NPT. Airtimes on NPT2 are Tuesday, Feb. 24, at 8 a.m. and Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 1 p.m. The documentary will also be available for online viewing at video.wnpt.org.