By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
At age 90, Dr. William Ferguson Reid of Richmond is using Facebook, a warm handshake, and a long memory, to solve an old problem.
Discrimination may not look like it did in 1955. Then segregated bathrooms, colored water-fountains, and voting poll obstacles were impossible to overlook until the Richmond surgeon co-founded a voter registration drive that helped him become the first African American in the General Assembly in the 20th century.
The point is Reid recently launched another new voter registration campaign around the time he celebrated his 90th birthday. It is called 90 for 90. While Reid did not see segregation-era signs, poll taxes, literacy tests and other mechanisms that aimed to weaken black political clout in 1955. Shortly before he celebrated his 90th birthday he did see many familiar warning signs.
“I thought we’d gotten over the voting problems, but now they’re reinstituting them with a new name,” Reid said in an interview in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Instead of things getting better, they’re constantly throwing up new obstacles to us.”
Turning to a proven strategy, Reid and others launched 90 for 90: The campaign vowed to register 90 new voters in each of Virginia’s precincts for the June 9 state primary election and the general election that will be held on November 3.
“I thought things had gotten better, but the opposition just won’t give up,” said Reid who met daily in the mid-1950s with John Mitchell Brooks and Dr. William S. Thornton at the old Slaughter’s Hotel, a popular segregation-era gathering place in Richmond’s Jackson Ward. These meetings produced the Crusade.
And the Crusade helped Henry Marsh win a seat on Richmond City Council in 1966. Eleven years later in 1977, Marsh was the first African-American elected mayor of Richmond.
“The fight is never over,” Reid said. “You may correct one area of inequality, but another pops up. So we have to be vigilant.”
This means like a chemist produces a new cure by mixing old and new concoctions Reid is blending old and new strategies. Mix a warm handshake with a pat on the back at political campaigns. Throw in social media. Well, you get the picture.
“You have to take 2015 with the idea that the battle still goes on. There will always be opposition to people enjoying life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Reid.
The strategy then was as simple as it is now. Cut across racial lines to secure more votes for Democratic candidates.
“What you are given one day can be taken away from you the next day,” Reid said in an interview with the Library of Virginia. “I think that the last presidential election showed that in spite of all our progress, all of the gains that we made, that in the time it takes five Supreme Court justices to put a signature on a decree, all of the gains can be taken away from you.”
“Your one vote does count,” Reid added. “You have to be ever vigilant. There are always problems. . .In the political world, somebody has to be the winner, and somebody has to be the loser.”
“And in order to be the winner … you have to have a strategy, you have to identify what the problem is, and you have to sit down and decide how you are going to resolve that problem. It cannot be solved in one day or one year.”