In which my grandmother schools me on her grandmother and voting:
Harriet Nicholson Tomlin Hart (1861-1926)
Me: How did she work that? How did Harriet get to be the first black woman to vote?
Grandma: Well, because her husband [T. Alonzo Hart] was a lawyer.
Grandma: He was a, whatchacall – a real estate lawyer. And he taught her how to read and write and do everything after he married her. Or while he was marrying her. Or something. And when time came for women to vote, she was the first black – he carried her down to the polls, and she was the first black woman to vote. And then at that time, you know, they gave you a quiz.
Me: Right. Right. Right. For black people to vote. Yeah. ‘Cause did your parents – well, did your father vote?
Grandma: Oh, yeah. Papa voted. He voted. And the people in my home, Lisa, fought in the streets [Statesville, North Carolina]. It was dange – I mean, we could not go outside the house on election night. The people — “Who’d you vote for?” “I’m a Democrat.” “I’m a Republican.” Pam-a-lam-a-lam! [Swings fists, and I break into laughter.] People acted like they were crazy! Papa didn’t allow us out the house. “You better be getting on home!” ‘Cause they were terrible.
Me: And now you got to drag people out to vote. And then you hear people going: “I’m not gon vote now. What’s the point? I blah-blah-blah.”
Grandma: Yeah. When I came here [Newport News, Virginia] you had to pay poll tax.
Grandma: It wasn’t a whole lot, but it was ridiculous.
[My grandmother cast her last ballot — at age 100 — for Barack Obama in 2008.]
Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.