Memphis civil rights activist encouraged by early voting numbers

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If one Memphian knows about the importance of voting, it’s Memphis civil rights activist Elaine Lee Turner.

“I think it’s so heartwarming to know people understand how important their votes really are,” Turner said. “Especially when I see Black people voting because we’re the ones who had to fight for the right to vote. People died, people were lynched, people were beaten and put in jail. All of that just for the right to vote.”

Turner is now the president and founder of Heritage Tours and the director of Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. She and her family were arrested almost 20 times during the Civil Rights Movement while fighting for right in Memphis and Alabama.

“John Lewis and the others had been beaten a few days earlier seeking the right to vote for people in Alabama and brutality they had to suffer, but they persevered and kept marching, working for the right the vote.”

Turner said she’s pleased to know more than 219,000 people in Shelby County have already voted.

“It’s so overwhelming to see those lines of people who don’t mind waiting because we waited for decades for the right to vote,” she said.

She’s also encouraged to see younger people and people of color voting, especially after this year’s racial unrest in the country.

“I believe the young people understand that they have a voice after the George Floyd murder,” Turner said. “The young people were out in the streets by the tens of thousands letting their voices be heard and demanding justice.”

Turner said voting is the way the once-voiceless can be heard.

“When we see things need to be changed, we need to change them and if it means getting into trouble like John Lewis said then get into trouble. We got into a lot of trouble back in the ’60s, but it was good trouble.”

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