The (Literal) Price of Freedom.

For African-Americans living in Texas in the 1950s, it was $1.75

Malcolm Johnson
3 min readJun 5, 2016
Me and my Uncle R.L. in the early seventies.

This is my great Uncle, Robert Lee Johnson. But I always knew him as Uncle R.L.

He was the man who raised my Father, the man my Father considers his father.

He was born on January 17, 1912, and for most of his life he worked as either a handyman or a Security Guard at an Ice Cream Factory. In fact, he built the house my Father grew up in.

He served in World War II in the Pacific Theater, where he had (according to him) an encounter with Eleanor Roosevelt, where he told the first lady “Don’t go up there, that’s where the Japanese are.”

He says.

He was honorably discharged by the Army in 1946, and died in Kingsville, Texas in 1986.

He was never rich, but he was a a good man who lived a good life.

And on January 31st, 1955we charged this man money to vote.

This is what you think it is, the receipt they give you after they charge you money to vote.

Yes, this country charged my Uncle R.L. $1.75 cents to cast a ballot. We figure it to be about $20 bucks in today’s dollars. This is a practice that was wiped away by the 24th Admendment of the Constitution:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Despite the fact he was a Combat Veteran. Despite the fact he was honorably discharged in 1946. Despite the fact he was good man who, like so many others, didn’t have a lot in life, Robert Lee Johnson was born African-American, and charging people to vote was something we did to African-Americans in 1955.

I’m gratified that people now look at that Receipt in amazement, wondering just what it is. I’m glad that people have to be reminded that there was once a time where we did this to our fellow citizens, though it was at a time when someone like me wouldn’t have been considered a citizen.

My Uncle in the last year of his life.

So come this Tuesday, when you have a chance to vote, make sure you do. Too many have died, too many have been denied this basic right for you to set it aside for any reason.

There are agendas being discussed, agendas that will affect you and yours. Your voice, whether it agrees with mine or not, has to be heard. It has to.

There is a price for Freedom.

For African-Americans living in Jim Wells County Texas, it was a $1.75.