‘Our ancestors have given too much’: Los Angeles barbershop customers lament the state of voting rights in America

The Los Angeles Times recently highlighted a barbershop discussion that underscores how the assault on America’s democracy is still being dismissed. Columnist Steve Lopez began with a triumphant recount of former President Barack Obama’s first victory.

A man named Lawrence Tolliver recalled the liberating feeling he felt casting his vote for Obama. At the time, Obama’s victory appeared to be a move in the right direction for minorities in the United States. From slavery and the civil rights movement to the country electing its first Black president, it seemed the country was embarking on a new path.

“I was just so happy for America, and I said we had finally turned the corner,” Tolliver said of Obama’s political ascension. “And as happy as I was then, I’m just as saddened, disheartened, and discouraged by the acts going on now to suppress or deny the vote.”

However, the election of former President Donald Trump suggested that the country had moved two steps forward only to take 3 backward. Even though President Joe Biden was elected, Lopez noted that it does not mean the country has changed its course; rather it has increased the divide between political parties and created more ammunition for Trump supporters to bring his agenda to fruition.

“More than 13 years later, that road has taken a sharp turn, back into the past,” Lopez wrote, later adding, “But Joe Biden’s sound defeat of President Trump in 2020 unleashed unhinged claims that the election was stolen, and more than a dozen states have since enacted voting rules expected to suppress minority votes.”

He added, “The tactics include neutering secretaries of state and restricting registration, voting times, and mail-in ballots.”

During Lopez’s visit to the Los Angeles barbershop, he noted the tone of the conversation as Tolliver, his wife, and a number of disgruntled customers shared their disdain about the current state of America.

“Last week, I met with the Tollivers and some of the longtime customers at the barbershop,” Lopez noted. “The language was as sharp as Tolliver’s shears. The tone was a bitter blend of heartbreak, rage, and resignation that the nation’s most reprehensible sins may never be buried.

“These are people whose ancestors were sharecroppers, and whose families headed west to escape Jim Crow,” he added. “Lawrence Tolliver said his elders told him a country built on the backs of slaves would never be free of bigotry, and yet he wanted to believe the country could evolve.”

Bernadette Tolliver, Lawrence’s wife also shared her thoughts on the progression of civil rights. She said, according to the LA Times, “If those sacrifices by [Medgar] Evers and legions of others were the foundation of Obama’s rise decades later, victory came at a price.”

Lopez wrote, “On many fronts, there’s been progress in the half century since then, and Tolliver noted that white people have always been part of the civil rights movement. But resistance to the continued diversification of the U.S. has further exposed strains of venomous hatred masked as virtue and patriotism.”

William Taylor, a barbershop regular who couldn’t participate in the conversation in person, called the shop to offer his thoughts. He expressed concern about Republican lawmakers’ assault on voting rights saying, “Our ancestors have given too much for us to lose the right to vote.”

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