Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, speaking during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, condemned recent attacks on Georgia’s election law that characterized it as a “Jim Crow” measure. Read the lightly edited transcript, below, or watch the video above.
Thank you, Chairman [Dick] Durbin, Ranking Member [Chuck] Grassley, and the members of the committee for the invitation to join you today at this hearing.
My American story begins with my great-great-grandfather, Sals Burgess, who arrived in America as a child shackled in the belly of a slave ship. Sals was sold on an auction block with his mother in Charleston, South Carolina, to the Burgess plantation. He escaped through the Underground Railroad and later became a successful entrepreneur, purchasing 102 acres of farmland paid off in two years.
My grandfather, Oscar Kirby, served our country in World War I and was a respected and successful farmer, raising 12 children. All of them graduated from college.
My father, Clarence Burgess Owens Sr., was stationed in the Philippines at the end of World War II. When he returned home to Texas, actual Jim Crow laws denied him a post-graduate education. Raised in a generation that used this as motivation, he received his Ph.D. in agronomy at Ohio State University and had a successful career as a professor, researcher, and entrepreneur.
I grew up in the era of actual legalized institutional racism. I grew up in the Deep South in Tallahassee, Florida, in the 1960s during the days of KKK, Jim Crow, and segregation. My first experience of white Americans was at 16 years old. At 18, I was the third black athlete to receive a scholarship to play football at the University of Miami. Now, I proudly represent Utah’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. Congress.
I sit today before you as someone who’s lived the American dream, as have millions of other Americans of all races from every background. This is due to our country’s mission statement that all men and women are created equal, a mission statement that every American should have the equal opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But as someone who’s actually experienced Jim Crow laws, I’d like to set the record straight on the myth regarding the recently passed Georgia state law and why any comparison between this law and Jim Crow is absolutely outrageous.
Here are a few examples of my own life of what Jim Crow laws actually look like. At the age of 12, my father allowed me to participate in a demonstration with college students in front of the segregated Florida State Theater, where, because of our color, we could not enter. I was the youngest participant there. Only 50 years later did I learn that my father parked across the street to watch and make sure I was safe.
In the seventh grade, my school never received new books. Instead, we received books from the all-white school across town. At service stations there were white men-only restrooms, white women-only restrooms, and a filthy restroom in the back of the station for black Americans designated as colored. In addition, Jim Crow laws like poll tax, property tests, literacy tests, and violence and intimidation at the polls made it nearly impossible for black Americans to vote.
The section of the Georgia law that has brought so much outrage from the left, it simply requires any person applying for an absentee ballot to include evidence of a government-issued ID on the application.
If a voter does not have a driver’s license or ID card, that voter can use a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or any other government document that shows a name and address of this voter. If a voter somehow cannot produce one of these forms of ID, that voter can still vote and cast a vote, a provisional ballot. By the way, 97% of Georgia voters already have a government-issued ID.
What I find extremely offensive is a narrative from the left that black people are not smart enough, not educated enough, not desirous enough for education to do what every other culture and race does in this country, get an ID. True racism is this, it’s the projection of the Democratic Party on my proud race. It’s called the soft bigotry of low expectation.
President [Joe] Biden said of the Georgia law, “This is Jim Crow on steroids.” With all due respect, Mr. President, you know better. It’s disgusting and offensive to compare the actual voter suppression and violence of that era that we grew up in with a state law that only asks that people show their ID. This is the type of fearmongering I expect in the 1960s, not today.
And by the way, literacy tests and poll tests were initiated by the Democratic Party. The intimidation of black Americans by the KKK was initiated by the Democratic Party. Jim Crow, that I grew up in in the South of segregation, was initiated by the Democratic Party.
The soft bigotry of low expectation now projected on black Americans—not Italians, not Asians, not Polish, not Jewish, but only black Americans—is being done by the Democratic Party.
Where black misery today thrives and is prevalent—lack of education, lack of jobs, high crimes, the call for defund the police—it’s all done in Democratic parties. By increasing illegal votes and not giving voice to those legal Americans, black Americans who are seeing and waking up today, is the real tragedy of this process.
We’re seeing 18% of black men turn away from the Democratic Party because they’re seeing that their vote can count and their future can matter. We’re seeing twice the percentage of black women doing the same. A record number of Hispanics, Asians, and gay community members doing the same.
So know [what] all Americans … very simply expect is fairness, security to walk away from the poll booth knowing that my vote counted. If we didn’t win, we work harder next time to make sure my message, our message resonates.
But to call this Jim Crow 2021 is an insult, my friends. For those who never lived Jim Crow, we are not in Jim Crow, and for black Americans to go out every single day and vote the way we feel we should is a right that we should have and not be demeaned by something 60 years ago in which we had no right to do any of the above. Thank you very much.
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