'Until the Building Falls Down': A Fight to Vote When Theresa Burroughs came of age in the late 1940s, she was ready to vote. But in her Alabama town, it took two years of effort just for her to register. Burroughs voted in the next election. And she hasn't stopped since.

'Until the Building Falls Down': A Fight to Vote

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And let's come back to this country now for StoryCorps. This project is recording American voices with interviews around the country, and we hear them here on MORNING EDITION every Friday.

Today, we have a story from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It's our first from that state. In 1947, Theresa Burroughs was 18 years old and ready to vote. But actually exercising that right was difficult. Here as she remembers trying to register at the Hale County Courthouse.

Ms. THERESA BURROUGHS: I went there for two years with a minister named Reverend J.J. Simmons. The white men, they would not let us register to vote. They would sit there, they had tables, and they would be playing dominoes. I didn't even know how to play dominoes. But do you know I learned to play standing there watching them? They would ask you silly questions, like this man, and I know what was his name, Mr. Cox. He was chair of the board of registrars.

He asked me, how many black jelly beans in a jar? How many red ones in there? And I told him, you don't know how many jelly beans. He told me to shut my black mouth. Shut up. Well, the next Monday, I told Reverend Simmons that I was not going back. I said because I'm not going to be embarrassed like that anymore. He says, you want to vote, don't you? I said, yes. He says we're going to go until the building falls down. So we're going to be there every time they'll open that door. He said at nine in the morning, I'll be back to pick you up. You're going.

And that is the day Mr. Cox asked me to recite part of the Preamble to the Constitution. I don't really think he knew, but I recited it. He said you're going to pass today because we are tired of looking at your black faces. And then he gave me my slip that I was registered voter. We did vote in the next election. It was a joy. But a thing about it is I didn't feel that it should have been this hard. I knew it shouldn't have been this hard.

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INSKEEP: Theresa Burroughs at a StoryCorps booth in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She tells us she has not missed an election in the last 60 years. StoryCorps interviews are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. And you can learn how to record your story at npr.org.

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