I reflected upon the range of “first” Election Days in the wake of the variety of reactions this week. We know that the expanse of suffrage occurred slowly over time. Still, in my depiction of the “first” Election Day for the formerly enslaved men of Milford, I chose to see that day as a day of celebration. It was a day where they were being counted in this country, not as 3/5 of a person but as a voice.
Virgil Smithson is appointed as mayor over Milford, by Mrs. Milford, when in the wake of the Civil War, she decides to draw Milford as a town. Virgil is responsible for taking the papers to the then state capitol of Georgia, Milledgeville, to certify the founding of Milford, Georgia and to attest that he is the mayor of said town. It is one of the first times when he is able to use his signature, the one that his wife Amanda taught him to write.
That scene in The Preacher’s Promise is meant to represent the hope that Virgil feels in the new day coming as a result of the end of slavery. So just as that scene in Milledgeville is central in The Preacher’s Promise, so too is the Election Day scene in the upcoming The Mayor’s Mission. I hope that these depictions of the expansion of rights helps everyone to remember that there was a time when very few of us were able to vote. My scene set on the “first” Election Day was able to happen because of the Reconstruction Act of 1867. Many Americans were still left out on that “first” Election Day in April 1868. In Georgia’s case, the legitimacy of the election was not certain until the passage of the fifteenth amendment in 1870–an issue that haunts Virgil’s election to the state legislature. Still, the commemoration represented a new beginning. No matter what our political beliefs, we would do well to remember who came before and to keep it a festive day.