Decision 2020

Voting Through the Ages: Virginia Woman Reflects on 7 Decades of Voting

Mabel Hairston has voted for 76 years and counting, and she knows the power a single vote can represent.

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Mabel Hairston has words for anyone thinking about sitting out this election.

"You're just missing the privilege. You just need to get out and vote," she says. "That's the thing to do."

And Hairston would know. She's 97 years old, and has voted in nearly every election since 1944 when she turned 21. She only missed one in the 1950s because she was bed-ridden with arthritis.

Hairston has already cast her vote for president. She voted early in Virginia last week, but voting hasn’t always been that easy for her. She grew up in Martinsville, Virginia, and when she went to the polls for the very first time- -- to cast a vote for FDR -- there were rules for Black people who went to vote.

She had to memorize parts of the Constitution and pass a test to vote. She also had to pay a poll tax.

"One dollar and fifty cents," she recalled.

But Hairston was determined to pass that test. She came to know a man Emmet Taliaferro, a local principal. He tutored young Black voters so they could qualify to vote. He formed a special group he called it 'Acirema'. That's 'America' Spelled backwards, and that group would meet once a week until everyone knew how to qualify.

It was through Taliaferro that Hairston learned the power of casting a ballot.

"In order to get things done," she says, "register and be ready to vote."

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