THOSE WHO TEACH
THOSE WHO TEACH
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RE-RIGHTING VOTING HISTORY
When Pippa Holloway earned her Ph.D., she had planned to specialize in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, having studied under a pioneer in the field and written a book about the politics of sexuality.
However, while volunteering for voter registration at a Nashville housing project, Holloway noticed that a large number of residents she met had prior felony convictions. “Many were unaware that they couldn’t vote because of that, or they were confused about the law,” she recalled. “As a fairly dedicated voter registrar, I tried to read the law so I could explain it to people. It was incredibly complicated.”
Holloway, now an MTSU professor of History, has spent much of her academic life since then unraveling the relationship between voting rights and the legal and penal systems in the U.S., and documenting their combined effect on minority voters. “When laws are really complicated, they are often unfairly or unevenly enforced,” she said. Her book, Living in Infamy: Felon Disfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship (2013), describes how white southern Democrats during Jim Crow limited African-American political power by tying voting to criminal history. Even today, in four Southern states including Tennessee, one in five African-Americans cannot vote due to a felony conviction, Holloway said. And the ripple effect of disfranchisement has spread far beyond the South. Her research has even been cited in court cases in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Iowa.