LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, marked 100 years since the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote.
Louisville resident Lottie Spencer is seven years older than the amendment. She once lived in a house with no running water, electricity, or gas, and the outhouse was located in the backyard. Her granddaughter, Phaedra Walker, commented that she used to use corn on the cob as toilet paper.
Spencer was born Aug. 1, 1913, in Louisville. It was the era of Jim Crow and seven years before women had the right to vote. She may not remember everything, but she does remember the day when women were granted the right to vote.
“And we were walking around the streets, and everybody in the streets were crowded,” Spencer told Spectrum News 1. “Everybody was just jolly and happy.”
Spencer’s parents instilled in her the importance of voting.
“I went to the polls with my mother, and I felt like I was the big as she was laughing,” Spencer said.
Her first vote? The 1932 presidential election during the Great Depression, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt won.
She took her privilege so seriously that she worked the polls from 18 years old until her 80s and has never missed an election. That’s because she knows how fragile voting is, especially during the era before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“I remember when people would get in front of you and try to stop you,” Spencer recalled.
Spencer also remembered white men in Louisville using other tactics to suppress her and other black people’s votes. She said they would tell voters that their vote doesn’t matter, shoot guns in the air to create fear, and even offer her $5 to $100 to buy her vote.
“I’d tell them, 'I have freedom and rights, and you don’t tell me what to do. I’m not selling no votes,'” she said.
Spencer said election days back then felt like a national holiday. Businesses were closed and neighbors had BBQs and celebrated. Spencer’s daughter, Della Porter, remembered the same.
“Like my mother said, the community was very active. It was alcoholic that day,” Porter explained while laughing.
The 82-year-old followed in her mother’s footsteps. Porter said she has also voted in every single election since she was 18.
Her first time voting was during the 1956 presidential election when Dwight D. Eisenhower was reelected.
”With my granddaughter, you know, her parents are having her to look at the different platforms and decide, but there was no decision in our family. You know, because in my era it was what your parents say that’s gospel,” Porter told Spectrum News 1.
Phaedra Walker’s first presidential election was in 1992 with Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. on the ticket. The 47-year-old has taken her daughter Kela Bailey to the polls since before she could walk. And ever since Bailey could talk, Walker has educated her about voting.
“I think she’s only missed going with me to the polls once, and, even as a child, we would sit down, and I would show her who is on the ballot. What their party was. What are some things that they are talking about? What are they going for? What are they going against,” Walker explained.
Kela Bailey turns 18 in October, meaning the 2020 presidential election will be her first election to vote in, which now comes with making her own decisions.
“I’ve always encouraged her to be a free thinker,” Walker said. She told Spectrum News 1 that she is a registered Democrat and Bailey’s Father is a registered Republican. So Walker said her daughter has learned about both parties.
Even though Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 won’t be Bailey’s first time at the polls, she admits she does feel nervous about voting for the first time. However, Bailey has plenty of support.
“My mom’s always going to be helping me until that day comes, but yeah, I’m looking forward to it,” said Bailey.￼
She's continuing a family tradition and a legacy that great-grandma wouldn’t have any other way.
“Oh, cause you have to vote. Nowadays, you just have to vote to have freedom,” Spencer said.
The last time Spencer voted in-person was for the 2016 presidential election. At the time, she was 103-years-old. Spencer has voted by absentee ballot ever since.