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From Lunch Counters to the Voting Booth
Prairie View Students Battle Voting Rights Struggle with Record Registrations, Spirited Volunteerism
Lone Star Power Pages
PRAIRIE VIEW- In 1960, four black college students sat in protest at Woolworth’s segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
At the time, it was unforeseen what impact their actions would have on the rest of the South.
As the sit-in garnered national attention, the sit-in movement spread to other southern cities and led to the desegregation of numerous lunch counters.
In that spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, students at Prairie View A&M seek to make history with one voice telling Waller County leaders, “We will not be denied. We will Vote!!!”
That cry has students registering for the November election at a record pace.
According to Prairie View Mayor Frank Jackson, students have taken up the torch and intend to send a strong message to the county that voting rights matter and they will not be denied.
“They are fired up, enthusiastic and ready to campaign and vote,” he said. “This demonstrates their commitment to stand up, be leaders, use their democratic voice and take their place in society.”
So far, over 1,200 new freshmen have been registered bringing the total of registered voters to nearly 3,000.
Prairie View A&M University was founded in 1876 and is the second oldest public institution of higher learning in the state of Texas.
With an established reputation for producing African-American engineers, nurses and educators, PVAMU offers baccalaureate degrees in 50 academic majors, 37 master’s degrees and four doctoral degree programs through nine colleges and schools. Today, the school has about 8,000 students.
In a county that has limited Black progress and been slow to warm to African-American leadership and ideas, county fathers have not been open to increasing voting roles of students at the college.
The county has a turbulent history of working to thwart and disenfranchise Prairie View students' attempts to vote in elections.
Waller County had reduced the number of early voting locations from about six around the county to only one at its courthouse because county officials said they could not afford to operate multiple early voting locations.
After getting pressure from federal government, the county added three early voting locations, still there was not one announced for the Prairie View campus, convenient to students.
The county is remains under investigation by the Texas Attorney General's Office based on complaints by local black leaders following after the November 2006 general election. Those allegations stem from voting machine failures, inadequate staffing and long delays for voting results.
Jackson supported the students in their fight for the right to vote and continues the fight to get a polling station on campus. Presently, those wanting to vote must cast ballots in the community center off campus.
"The students are citizens of this city," Jackson said. "They must be allowed to vote and their votes must count. To deny one group is really to set up an opportunity to deny all of us."
The controversy over voting came to a head in 2004 when students marched from the campus to the courthouse after former Waller County District Attorney Oliver Kitzman declared them ineligible to vote, claiming they did not meet state residency standards- a decision that was challenged in court.
Last February, students, local leaders, civil rights activists and elected officials organized a march and walked from the campus to the Waller County Courthouse in Hempstead to send a strong message that their voices would be heard.
The activism at Prairie View reflects a trend of young people ages 18 and 30 to register to vote and take roles in political campaigns.
Jackson said more of the students are looking forward to November and are already organizing and stepping up to volunteer at poll watcher, voter registrars and working in election campaigns.
“I’m excited and proud of these students,” Jackson said. “This is the kind of energy and positive enthusiastic spirit I like to see among our African-American youth.”
Justice Prognosis Looks Good in Activist Case
Lone Star Power Pages
BEAUMONT- Attorneys for a Ricky “Eligah” Jason say justice could be just over the horizon for the long-time Black activist.
Jason has been in a two-year struggle for justice in a case involving CenterPoint Energy and one of its employees who allegedly pushed him, verbally assaulted him with racial slurs, ignored signs on his fence, trespassed, violated his sovereignty as a taxpayer, home owner and invaded his privacy by jumping the fence to get a gas meter.
”We do feel Mr. Jason was wronged,” said Trent Bond, attorney for Jason. “We are confident justice will be fully served in this case.”
Jason is no stranger to fighting for justice from the courtroom to death row, the soft-spoken Jason has been a tireless activist working to get the message out for those human beings that society has neglected, tossed aside and thrown away.
Bond is a member of Reaudd, Morgan and Quinn law firm. The firm is well known for its involvement in the tobacco litigation case in Texas.
According to court records, Jason’s struggle against CenterPoint Energy began in 2006, after an incident with an employee who claimed one of Jason’s dogs attacked him after he got into the yard. He filed a complaint against Jason that resulted in a warrant for his arrest and time in custody.
According to the Jefferson County Clerk arrest warrant issued for Jason, Center Point Energy employee Kevin Calhoun, who is White, made statements to police that he first spoke with Jason at his door about collecting a gas meter.
At the time, Jason was not in arrears on a bill and the meter was not activated or connected since Jason’s home is heated and cooled by central heating and air.
Jason, who battles several medical problems, said he did object to him getting the meter, but asked him to come back at a later time.
At the time, Jason’s home is surrounded by a large eight-foot wooden privacy fence and on the fence two signs are clearly posted that warned visitors “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog”.
The report indicated Calhoun ignored the request and shortly after speaking with Jason who went back into his home, and jumped the fence and went after the meter, despite seeing two German shepherds in the back yard.
Jason heard a commotion came outside and discovered the man hitting the dog repeatedly with a pipe wrench. He then went into the home and called 911.
Police did not listen to Jason who dialed 911 to report the incident and charged him with unlawfully and intentionally, knowingly and recklessly caused bodily injury or threatened another with bodily injury by letting the dog loose on Calhoun – Calhoun had told police in his statement that he observed Jason walk toward the dog and then he heard a chain drop before and was immediately attacked by the dog and told police he wanted to file criminal charges on Jason for “letting the dog loose to attack him.”
Jason was also injured his foot when allegedly pushed by Calhoun after Jason tried to help him. As Jason assisted Calhoun, the man cursed Jason and uttered racial slurs.
Meanwhile, Jason, an award winning filmmaker, presses on with his public project and crusade to tell the human side of the James Byrd Story.
Three white men who were members of the “Confederate Knights-Ku Klux Klan” dragged Byrd to death in Jasper, Texas.
Jason’s film on Byrd has been shown in various cities in the U.S. and abroad and has won numerous awards including the Texas Black Film Festival 2008 Award for “Best Texas Film”; AFI Dallas 2008 Choice Award; and the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival Best Socio-Political Documentary. It also premiered at the San Diego Black Film Festival, Won the Best South Africa Award and received the Houston Peace and Justice Center Appreciation Award.
His film work and dedicated civil rights efforts are respected among colleagues that include Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, International Peace figure Nelson Mandela, actress Susan Sarandon, music mogul Russell Simmons, Oprah Winfrey, comedian-activist Dick Gregory, Sidney Portier, Martin Luther King III, Stevie Wonder, Nation of Islam leader Hon. Louis Farrakhan and David Atwood, who heads the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
“At this stage we are in discovery, taking depositions and preparing for trial,” Bond said. “I feel very good about this case.”