Voting is the way to jobs and economic equality, said Joe Rowe, local NAACP vice president.
"Our situation can improve dramatically in this area if we just get out and vote. That's the answer locally and that's the answer nationally," he said. "Understand the issues about jobs, education, social justice and then go vote."
Rowe will talk about the importance of voting when he presides over the NAACP's annual Jubilee Day celebration, scheduled Sunday at Phillips Temple CME. Pastor Cheryl E. Jones-Goliday will be the main speaker.
"It is my desire that the hearers will become astutely aware that, even though we as a people have come a long way, there is a danger of a complacency in reveling in our successes, that we forget about the struggles that afforded us the opportunity to be where we are," Goliday said.
Phillips Temple will be among black churches and civil rights organizations across the country celebrating Jubilee Day, which commemorates Jan. 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that eventually helped free black slaves in the United States.
The Emancipation Proclamation was just a step toward blacks receiving equality, Rowe said. After the proclamation came the 14th Amendment, which gave blacks equal protection under the law across the U.S., and the 15th Amendment, which said a person couldn't be denied the right to vote based on race, color or "previous condition of servitude," meaning slavery.
But it took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to enable all blacks to cast a vote at election polls, Rowe said.
Yet 148 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, more than 11,000 blacks age 18 or older in Hamilton County don't vote, Rowe said. They are among 6 million in the country with the same lack of participation.
"The key to our democracy, you have to participate in the political process by understanding the issues and voting for the people that will make life better for yourself and your family," he said.
James Mapp, who headed the local NAACP for more than 20 years, said the ability to vote "is the one thing in this country that is equal."
"And it doesn't cost us anything. That one little vote can make a big difference," he said.
The local NAACP now has the names and addresses of people who are old enough to vote but are not registered, Rowe said. Members of the NAACP are knocking door to door to help them get registered, he said.
"At the end of the day we want anybody of legal age to have the right to vote," said local NAACP President Valoria Armstrong. "We want to prevent any form of discrimination from having them obtain the right to vote and actually voting at the polls."
Rowe said he's also talked with black ministers about making sure the voting-age members of their congregations are registered and also have the proper identification required.
The Tennessee Legislature passed a law this year that requires everyone who votes to have a photo ID.