Voting Rights: Our Return to Normalcy

Nassau, BS:  Junkanoo Dancer 12/26/14
Nassau, BS: Junkanoo Dancer 12/26/14

‘America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy….’[1] So said Warren Harding in his successful campaign for president in 1920.

But how different was Harding’s ‘normalcy’ from today’s ‘new normal’?

That question came to mind as I listened to the version of ‘He’s in the Jailhouse Now’ recorded by the Memphis Sheiks (aka the Memphis Jug Band) in 1930.  Their first verse will not be heard in Jimmie Rodgers’s rendition or those of the Country singers who followed his (listen to the Sheiks here):

I remember last election,
Jim Jones got in the action.
Said he’s voting for the man who paid the biggest price.
The next day at the poll,
He voted with heart and soul,
But instead of voting once, he voted twice.

He’s in the jailhouse now.
He’s in the jailhouse now.
Instead of him staying at home letting those white folks’ business alone,
He’s in the jailhouse now.[2]

Elections.  ‘White folks’ business’.  ‘Normalcy’ in 1930, and not just in the former Confederate states.[3]

With voter ID laws and vote suppression measures spreading across states with Republican legislatures and governors, the ‘new normal’ looks a lot like ‘normalcy’.



  1. Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday [1931] as reproduced in Only Yesterday & Since Yesterday (New York: Bonanza Books, 1986), pp. 41-42. This is a photo reproduction of the original volume. The unpaginated text is available at Project Gutenberg Australia. Harding invented the word ‘normalcy’.
  2. Punctuation added and line breaks adjusted to the Jug Band Hall of Fame site’s lyrics to reflect the Memphis Sheiks’ recording.
  3. So far as I know, Harding never endorsed Jim Crow.  In 1922, he took a firm stand against lynching: ‘Congress ought to wipe the stain of barbaric lynching from the banners of a free and orderly, representative democracy.’  David Levering Lewis, “An American Pastime,” New York Review of Books, November 21, 2002, p. 27.