"One Who Can Really Appreciate Voting": A Black Voter Remembers the Old South

DETROIT – Martina Guzman, FI2W reporter

John McDowell sat in his lawn chair at the Kemeny voting center in Detroit. He passed out Obama literature and smiled at the young people who came to vote.

“I’m one of the ones who can really appreciate voting,” McDowell said.

McDowell is originally from Louisiana but moved to Detroit in the 1960’s. He said he voted for the first time in 1955, but that was a humiliating experience.

“I was asked what party I belonged to and I told them Democrat,” he said. “They asked me to spell Democrat… I got one letter wrong, so they refused to register me.”

McDowell went home and looked up the word in the dictionary, swearing to never get it wrong again. He went back to the polling place, spelled the word correctly and registered to vote.

“I was lucky,” he said. “Some black people were asked to recite the Constitution.”

As McDowell told the story, 18-year-old Eric Ford stood by and listened. Ford was voting for the first time and said he was excited to make a stand and vote for change. He said that at his age he’s already worried about his future. “I look out here now and it’s scary,” he said.

Ford politely shook McDowell’s hand, then went inside to vote.

Orlando Moss is also worried about the future. Moss is the father of two and has been out of work for four months. He said he was voting for Obama — not because he is black, but because he feels Obama is best suited to turn the country around.

“I’m looking for a president who is going to create jobs, not just because of me but for my kids,” Moss said.

Detroiters waiting in line to vote talked about the economy, gas prices, unemployment and Obama’s safety if he becomes president. As the early afternoon lines began to slow down, Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. pulled up with his entourage in a black SUV. He said he and his staff were committed to making sure things ran efficiently in this election.

“Things are going as smooth as you could possibly hope for,” Cockrel Jr. said.

The new mayor also said that if Obama becomes president the city will have a friend in the White House.

“Obama has a domestic agenda that has a plan for cities — and that includes Detroit,” he said.

AboutMartina Guzman
Martina Guzmán is a former Feet in 2 Worlds reporter. She has for the past 15 years specialized in creative production with an emphasis on stories by and about Latino communities. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Communication from Madonna University, an A.A. in Photography from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit; and a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University. She currently works as a feature reporter for WDET, the NPR affiliate in Detroit, Michigan.