By Eric Bruce, Customer Service Representative, Ohio Ethics Commission
Through the years, I’ve had the opportunity to ask my mother many things about her life growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Now, at her age of 97, I have a full collection of stories and plenty of information. But I had never asked her about her voting experience until just a few days ago.
Essie Bruce, a retired librarian who worked at the Dayton Metro Library and the University of Dayton main library, never voted in Arkansas because she was too young when she lived there. But she told me how her parents in the late 1930s and early ‘40s saved money and paid the required poll taxes to vote, a practice of the era that was used to discourage or suppress black voting.
After completing her degree in library science, my mother worked at colleges and universities in Texas and Oklahoma, but never voted in those states either, as voting was not encouraged in the African American community.
My mom moved to Dayton, Ohio, in 1950, where her landlady, an Ohio-born African American with a long history of voting, strongly encouraged her to register to vote. My mother voted for the first time in a voting station temporarily housed in a neighbor’s garage, and this was the beginning of a lifetime of voting.
She became a strong voting advocate over the years, encouraging me and others to register to vote. She quickly became a well-informed voter, too, keeping up with current issues. When I was about 8 years old, she took me inside a voting machine and explained the process. By the time I turned 18, I was eager to register to vote, like a long-awaited rite of passage.
In 2008, my youngest son turned 18. To celebrate, we decided to vote together as a family with my two older sons. We carefully coordinated work and school schedules to arrive at our Gahanna polling station at the same time. As we celebrated this historic family event, my wife Vivian noticed a few mean stares from other voters. We were the only African American voters there, and they likely assumed who and what we were there to support.
We were disappointed but not discouraged. That experience was a good lesson that our vote does make a difference. We expect our grandchildren to continue to exercise their right to vote and remember their ancestors who fought for them to have that opportunity.