On January 18, 1964 I received a call form Morris Abram, president of the American Jewish Committee. He told me that final ratification of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was dependent upon one more state’s legislature approval of the amendment.
The 24th Amendment was one of the great accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It outlawed the use of poll taxes—taxes upon the right of voting. They had been widely used in the South to prevent African Americans from voting.
Morris told me that three states remained possibilities for ratification, and that since the other two were in the South, the best hope was South Dakota.
I agreed to help and the next day met with the Governor, Archie Gubbrud, whose campaign I helped. It was my first major effort in politics.
Governor Gubbrud drove me around Pierre in the brand new Lincoln that the Ford Motor Company had just given to each Governor. As we admired the fancy new automobile, the Governor told me that the legislation approving the 24th Amendment was being blocked by a committee chairman who had no intention of bringing the bill forward.
I told the Governor that South Dakota’s failure to approve the amendment would be seen by the nation as an indication that ours was a racist state and that I felt very strongly that SD should be the state that ended discrimination in voting rights. The Governor told me that he would sign the measure if the Legislature approved it but that he was unwilling to invest his own political capital in the process. He said it was up to me to convince the committee chairman, Joe Dunmire of Lead, to move the bill.
I’ll continue the story tomorrow.