LAKE CITY — When President Kennedy was elected in 1960, there was a good chance many Southern blacks didn't cast a vote.
It wasn't that they didn't support Kennedy — or Richard Nixon, his opponent — it was because it would be five more years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 guaranteed them federal protection in casting their ballots.
In the 100 years after the Civil War, Southern blacks were kept from the ballot boxes through practices such as literacy tests and poll taxes. The discrimination led to marches, registration drives and speeches like the one given by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"On behalf of all those, in the South, who cannot vote this November, but through the power of your vote shall yet be free to cast their ballots, I appeal to you — each of you — to go to the polls and vote," said King.
It was one of King's dreams.It has been less than 50 years since that historic Act was signed into law. William Thompson, 63, was a young teenager. By the time he turned 18 and became eligible to vote, Americans were putting that struggle behind them.
Thompson, a resident living at Lake City Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, will be giving his own speech today and spearheading a voter registration drive. All Americans have the right to vote without harassment and Thompson wants to provide a way for them to cast a ballot if they choose.
It's his dream.
Through Crossroads Hospice's Gift of a Day program, Thompson was given a unique opportunity to answer one simple question: "If you had one day left, how would you spend it?"
"To make a positive impact," was Thompson's reply.
During this afternoon's patriotic-themed voter registration drive, Thompson will speak on the importance of voting and being an involved citizen. Invited guests include Thompson's family, Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt, Lake City police Chief David Colwell, other nursing residents and Crossroads Hospice staff. All-American hamburgers and hot dogs will also be served.
The event begins at 2:30 p.m. and is expected to continue until 4 p.m. The facility is at 2055 Rex Road. To register to vote in Georgia, a person must be a U.S. citizen, a legal resident of Georgia and of the county in which he or she plans to vote and be 18 years old by Election Day.
A person cannot register if he or she is serving a sentence imposed by the conviction of a felony or has been judicially determined to be mentally incompetent.
The deadline for voting in Tuesday's primary was July 2. However, Georgia residents have until Oct. 9 to register to vote in the November presidential election.