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A touch screen with history
Some who cast their votes on tuesday still hold memories of roadblocks for black voters
Gainesville residents Clyde Demory, 76, and his wife Faydell Demory, 79, have voted in every election since 1960, when they had a choice between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. - photo by SARA GUEVARA


Clyde and Faydell talk about the years before the Civil Rights Act was passed.

They said they thought they would never see it in their lifetime.

When Clyde and Faydell Demory were children, it was very difficult to vote in the South just because of their skin color.

Now, in 2008, it is a possibility that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama could fulfill the dreams of the Demorys.

In less than 50 years, black Americans have gone from struggling to simply cast a vote to now being able to vote for a black man for president. Not to mention seeing a woman as a choice on the opposing ticket, too.

“When I was coming up, you really didn’t have much hope in anything. It was a struggle; they looked at you like a nobody and you sort of felt that way to a certain extent. But you didn’t have any freedoms to speak of,” said Clyde Demory, 76, one of the first African-American USDA inspectors in Gainesville. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed, “it was a time where we didn’t have much freedom of doing anything. You couldn’t sit down at any counter or anything like that. It was prohibited.

“It was segregated, but they didn’t really want you to know that. But we could understand that by being in this position.”

When Clyde voted for the first time, he said it was a boost of self-confidence. Both Clyde and Faydell, 79, voted for the first time during the race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960.

Even though the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, prohibited states from denying voting rights based on race or color, many states were still involved in discriminatory election practices that made voting difficult, especially in the South. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that blacks were assured the right to vote and there was a sharp increase in black voter registration, according to the United States Department of Justice Web site. (In 1920, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.)

“It’s so much different now,” said Faydell, who spent her childhood in White County. “When I came along I couldn’t even ride a bus; I had to walk to school three miles to get to school.”

Clyde added that the couple took part in the civil rights movement.

“Back when we started, we sat in at some luncheon counters like Woolworth (on theGainesville  square), and in the beginning there was a struggle and they didn’t want to wait on us. But they finally did,” he said.
When Faydell and Clyde’s oldest daughter, the Rev. Julia Demory — now a pastor at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Hoschton — reached high school age, she wanted to be a part of the civil rights movement as well.

“My oldest daughter and two of her classmates were the first to sit at that counter (at Woolworth),” Faydell said. “They decided they were going and they did. She was about 16, she and two more boys — it scared me and I thought, ‘My God what’s going to happen?’”

According to Demory, she went to Woolworth and ordered from the counter “just because she could.”

“I remember going with my neighbor Vernon Merritt and the other person is now a judge in Atlanta, his name is Judge Michael Hancock,” she said. “We were teenagers and it was the first time that we could go ... so we go into Woolworth and we go to sit down at the counter, only to order a soda, because we could. It took them a long time to wait on us, but we refused to leave. And the people sitting at the counter got up and left; they didn’t want to sit near us.

“I guess it’s something that I’ll always remember. All we wanted was a soda.”

Julia’s younger sister, Doris Maynard, said it was hard for her to hear the old stories about racism in Gainesville, but that makes her even more excited about this year’s election.

“I’m excited, very excited, real excited,” she said. “I know people that have lost their job and are struggling.”

Clyde and Faydell, who have been married for 60 years, have voted in every election since 1960 and said this year’s is the most exciting of them.

And they don’t want the hardships they faced in the past to ever haunt their children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

“I have a grandson that is 28 ... and I don’t want him to have to go through what I went through,” Faydell said.

Clyde, Faydell and their three daughters have already taken advantage of early voting and are excited to see the results from Election Day.

“He’s (Obama) going to have a hard time,” Faydell said. “I’m praying for him, I really am. I’m praying for his family.”

Clyde said it’s not only because Obama is black that he supports him; there are many other reasons.

“As a Democrat, I believe there will be some improvements,” he said. “We can’t go through what we’ve been through the past eight years — anything would be an improvement. It’s really been a struggle for everybody the past eight years under the Bush administration. They’ve lost their jobs, they are losing their homes, people have more bills to pay for, they have groceries to buy, insurance, they have the medicines to buy and they can’t do any of these things.

“You really have to count your pennies.”

Julia agreed with her father and said she looks at the issues, not just skin color.

“My prayers are with Sen. Barack Obama; my prayers are with all of them,” she said. “I think it is actually sad when people look at color and not look at your character. I’ve voted Democratic for the other presidents and they weren’t African-American. I look at what they do and what they can bring to the table, that’s important to me.

“My mama always told us never to judge someone by just looking at them. You can’t judge a book by its cover, you have to read what’s on the inside.”

Clyde said although Obama has made huge strides for African-Americans, there is a long way to go.
“In other words, I’ll put it this way and you can draw your own conclusions — there is room for improvement, as a whole,” he said. “If you had gone through some of the struggles that we have gone through, if you were in my shoes, you could understand it better.”