Black Alabama woman recalls her first vote

Annie Hrabowski leans back until her chair is balancing on its back two legs, as she sits by the deep, wide fireplace in the home where she has lived most of her 90 years. Bright-red coals under a long log warm the front of anyone facing the fire, but the cold air in the unheated room chills from behind.

Can you imagine yourself unable to eat in most public restaurants; unable to vote?

Annie remembers when she couldn't do these things, and it was not that long ago. She recalls the first day she was allowed to vote, after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She was in a railroad station, standing in line behind a white woman, when a white farmer she knew asked her what she was doing there.

''I'm down her for the same thing you're down here for,'' she clearly remembers herself replying.

She was happy. ''That's something I'd never done (vote). I'd long wanted to do it. Since we got our voting rights, we have plenty of whites come and ask for our vote. It should have been that way all the time.''

Blacks and whites should ''get together,'' cooperate in improving things, she says. ''If you know how to treat each other, you'll get along.''

She joined a protest march once. It was in Montgomery, Ala., a few years after police brutally attacked civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala., shocking the rest of America, in 1965. Annie says she was not afraid: ''I kept God all the way with me,'' she recalls.

She continues to help in voter registration projects from time to time. Who does she favor in the presidential race? Walter Mondale - who has more experience than Jesse Jackson, she says.

Later, as she bids a visitor goodbye, Annie stands by the old rusted gate of a wooden fence around the dirt yard and the tin-roofed wooden home. She looks out on the tree-covered, hilly land her father once farmed. And soon, when the presidential primary arrives, she will do something her parents and slave grandparents were never able to do: vote.

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