“I was the rebel.”

North Carolina House Representative Henry “Mickey” Michaux Jr. is the longest-serving member of the North Carolina General Assembly. He was the first African American Representative from Durham County and has represented the state’s thirty first House district since 1983 and between 1973 and 1977. In 1977, he became the first black United States Attorney in the South since Reconstruction.

Representative Michaux has dedicated his life and career to the issue of voting rights. He marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma in 1965, days after Bloody Sunday, affectionately referring to him as “Martin King.” Afterwards he worked alongside Henry Frye and Joy Johnson as the only African-American men in the legislature.

“Joy Johnson was a minister and he was a hell raiser. I was the rebel. I came out of the Civil Rights Movement. Henry Frye was the conciliator. And we would run that game on them until we even got some of the legislation we introduced passed.”

As a self-identified rebel, Michaux has never been afraid to speak his mind, a notable quality even his Republican counterparts will admit.

“When Republicans took over, the very first thing they said to Joe Hackney who had been the speaker before being relegated to Minority Leader, the first thing they told him was, ‘we will be alright if you shut Mickey Michaux up.’ And Joe said, ‘we gonna be in bad shape.'”

From his first day in office, Michaux has used his position in the North Carolina General Assembly to protect citizens’ right to vote. However, in 2013, with the passage of H.B. 589, much of Michaux’s work to enfranchise voters unraveled under the state’s new voting restrictions. Today, Michaux is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the Republican-penned 2013 election law overhaul in North Carolina.

On April 1, 2016, we sat down with Representative Michaux to discuss H.B. 589, controversial issues surrounding the passage of the bill, and his experiences as an advocate of voting rights in North Carolina.

Transcription of Interview with Mickey Michaux (MM)
Conducted on April 1, 2016

Interviewers: Emma Rose (ER), Lauren Anders (LA), Laure Bender (LB) Last questions asked by Phil Bennett (PB)

Section 1: 0:00 – 0:27 (0:27)
ER: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. In light of all the North Carolina voting rights controversy, we wanted to talk to you about some of your experiences as well as today’s current events. So for starters, we know that you spoke on the floor of the North Carolina House during the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and you mentioned that you spent time in eastern North Carolina trying to register citizens to vote, so we were wondering if you could speak about those experiences.

Section 2: 0:27 – 1:30 (1:03)
MM: Well, that was, I guess, leading up to the actual enactment of the Voting Rights Act. A group of us, a fellow named John Edward -not the former Senator- but John Edwards who was head of Voter Education Project, Ben Ruffin, John Louis and I, decided that we would go East, where we had pockets of black folks living, and start trying to get them to register to vote. Well, we went southeast, and we would go in, and we would say “we came here to see you all about getting registered to vote.” And they’d go “get out of here, get out of here, you gonna get us lynched, you gonna get us killed, you gonna get us fired from jobs.” And it was like that, that was just a general tenor that came out of black families that had been intimidated to the point that they would were afraid to do anything that would upset the apple cart.

Section 3: 1:30 – 1:33 (0:03)
ER: Was this before or after you marched at Selma?
MM: Before what?

Section 4

Section 5: 1:33 – 1:39 (0:06)
ER: Was this before or after you marched at Selma -you trying to register citizens to vote?

Section 6: 1:39 – 1:41 (0:02)
MM: After what?

Section 7: 1:41 – 1:47 (0:06)
ER: Were you in Eastern North Carolina trying to register citizens to vote before or after you marched at Selma?

Section 8: 1:47 – 3:11 (1:24)
MM: This was the summer of ‘65, I’m trying to remember… I went to Selma -you’re getting me on my dates. Jimmie Lee Jackson got killed, Martin called… I did not go to Selma on Bloody Monday -neither did I go on Turnaround Tuesday, which was the following Tuesday. I went on the Thursday following that. It was probably after folks had gone, I stayed in Selma on the march for a day and a half, and came back, and I think it was the following week that John and I decided to go down there, because we felt that it was gonna work and things were gonna move pretty fast. And they did move, faster than we expected them to. So that’s about when that happened, I’m talking early ‘64, middle of ‘64, I think the President signed the bill in ‘65.

Section 9: 3:11 – 3:22 (0:11)
ER: Okay, so speaking of Selma, we know that Reverend Barber has compared today’s voting rights battle to Selma, and I was wondering if you thought that that was an accurate comparison.

Section 10: 3:22 – 5:24 (2:02)
MM: I think that is an accurate comparison, because what is happening is we are retrogressing. All of the progress we had made -this has been my problem- basically all of the legislation that has been passed in NC involving voting rights has my name on it. There’s been one or two pieces that don’t have my name on it, but I cosponsered. Ellie Kinnaird did one of the pieces in the Senate, [and Herald did it] for her in the House, but starting for HAVA (Help America Vote Act) once we got that instituted, one of the very first pieces of legislation I got passed was open registration. Prior to that, we did not have open registration; if you wanted a registration drive, you had to go to the Board of Elections and get a registrar, if you could find one who would come into the black community and register folks that way. The legislation I introduced completely opened that up, anybody could go down and get a handful and take them back to the Board and the Board would do whatever they had to do to certify them. So that was one of the first steps. And I remember one Republican legislator asking me “You just want everybody to vote, don’t ya?” And I said “Gee, you know…” [Michaux shrugs]. Well as we moved forward, it was necessary that we started doing things, and I had a lot of lessons that i learned along the way. For instance, I was a victim of a second primary battle. I won a primary for a congressional seat, and I lost it because I only got 46-47% of the vote instead of the 50% plus one. So all of these things, including the HAVA Act, led up to my becoming involved in what could do to get more people out to the polls without any problems.

Section 11: 5:24 – 5:37 (0:13)
ER: Did you return for the 50th Anniversary of the Selma march?
MM: No, we were holed up over there in that place.

Section 12: 5:37 – 5:45 (0:08)
ER: Were you in the North Carolina House chamber on the day that House Bill 589 passed?

Section 13: 5:45 – 5:52 (0:07)
MM: Oh yes I was.
ER: Can you describe what the atmosphere was like and what you were thinking?

Section 14: 5:52 – 5:59 (0:07)
MM: I just got through testifying on that. Alright, 589. You want the history on it?
ER: All of it.

Section 15: 5:59 – 9:38 (3:39)
MM: Okay, it started out with a bill requiring photo ID. 12 pages long. And we opposed. It got passed by the House in the early part of 2013, and sent to the Senate, where it languished in the Senate for some time. And we thought, maybe they’re just gonna kill it, but the Senate, it got moved through the body. Then the decision came out outlawing section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which had an effect on section 5, which was the pre-clearance thing, by which you had to get pre-clearance. But they knocked section 4 out altogether. Two days after the Supreme Court passed that decision, the Senate came out with a 57 page bill called 589- they’d gone from 12 pages to 57 pages – and nobody knew anything that was in it, except for the folks who drew it. The process then was, they amended the bill in the Senate, passed it in the Senate, and sent it to the House, and we were to vote on it the next day. We had to accept it, with an up or down vote, no argument or anything like that, we couldn’t amend it, you just had to accept or not accept what they sent over, and you’d go to conference if you didn’t accept. Well, they decided there wasn’t any question that they [Republicans] were lockstep, and they were gonna accept it. We argued three and a half, four hours on the bill. There were 31 arguments done on that bill that day. Only two Republicans spoke for it -that was the leader, the Rules Chairman, and the sponsor of the original House Bill 589. They were the only two that spoke for it, none of the other Republicans said a word about it. Our arguments ranged from why are you doing this, why are you taking away those things that could cause more people to go out and vote. No one could understand why anybody would want to cut that down, which was what HB 589 did, when you started same day registration, the extended early voting time -all these things were included in that Senate version of it. There were 29 of us who voted and we spoke against it -I think it was the part where I said -sorta caught everyone’s attention- that they could take this piece of abomination, consign it to the streets of hell, there to remain forever, and then I sat down and shut up. Well, of course, when the vote was called, all the Democrats -black and white- stood up and bowed their heads, held hands, as a demonstration to tell them that this was bad… And that’s it, that’s what happened.

Section 16: 9:38 – 9:44 (0:06)
ER: What exactly was your immediate reaction following the decision when you left the chamber?

Section 17: 9:44 – 9:47 (0:03)
MM: You mean when we voted on it?

Section 18: 9:47 – 10:16 (0:29)
ER: Yes, then.
MM: Well, my feelings were the same as I had when I went in there. We knew that we were outnumbered, we knew they were gonna pass it, and the only thing we could count on was them passing it and then eventually getting into the court system where we are right now. Like I said, I just testified about two months ago in the hearing in Winston-Salem.

Section 19: 10:16 – 10:19 (0:03)
ER: Could you tell us what you said in your testimony?

Section 20: 10:19 – 11:39 (1:20)
MM: Just the fact that we could never understand why people wanted to put impediments in involving people’s rights to exercise their franchise. It took away those items that people could use and that would get more people involved in the system -which was the whole meaning of what we passed when we were in charge, so that you had more people turning out. Our turnouts -prior to the time that we passed all the legislation involving voting, we were 46th in the nation, and by the time we got all the legislation passed, we had gone from 46th in the nation to 11th in the nation in turnout. So it showed you that it was working to get people out to the polls to vote, so why is it necessary for you to do this, to put all these impediments in place so that you can then go back to your standing where you were 46th in the country. That was basically my testimony, and I was mad.

Section 21: 11:39 – 12:09 (0:30)
LA: I’m just gonna continue the conversation here. So in their decision in Shelby, the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, and that required Southern states to get federal approval before changing voting laws. This decision was made because the justices believed these protections were appropriate for the 1960s but are today no longer necessary. Chief Justice Roberts has even said that special treatment for minority groups is outdated. How do you respond to this argument?

Section 22: 12:09 – 13:16 (1:07)
MM: First off, we had been warned when the Voting Rights Act came up -you had to do it every ten, fifteen years-but before the last time it came up, we had been warned that we needed to go back and look at Section 4, because things had changed to a point where you had to add some additional criteria or you needed to change the criteria, that sort of thing. We didn’t do it. But in spite of that, Section 4 we felt was still needed. And we still had Section 2, no one had bothered Section 2, so we felt were still in pretty good shape with Section 2, which has turned out to be basically true. They are now working on changing Section 4 so that we go back to preclearance.

Section 23: 13:16 – 13:28 (0:12)
LA: Reverend Barber has even said that today we have less voting rights than at the time of the voting rights acts. Would you go that far?

Section 24: 13:28 – 16:14 (2:46)
MM: I would say that we have been more disenfranchised as a result of 589 than we were in 1965. Prior to 65, we were beginning to move in the right direction, but we had to have a push. And that push was the Voting Rights Act, which put into law what needed to be done. When you stop to think about it, Section 4 being the critical part of that legislation, you take it out, and you don’t have any criteria for preclearance. Barber could be right. It could be that, because you took 7-10 days off early voting, you knocked out same day registration, you knocked out voting in a difference precinct -there’s no balance that way. You have photo ID in there. Let’s talk about photo ID -I’m laughing because I’m thinking about what passed the other day -you gotta have a birth certificate to use the right restroom. It just gets bad then worse and worse. What I’m thinking is, voting is a constitutional right and there should not be any impediment there at all. If you have to show a photo ID for voting, then why don’t you have to show a photo ID for enforcing your amendment 2 rights. Every time you go buy a weapon, show them your photo ID -but you don’t need to do that, and that’s a constitutional right they say. The whole thing to me is that we are retrogressing. They raised the question about the fact that when we did redistricting back in ‘11, ‘12, why the justice department approved what they did. That was because there was no retrogression. The fact of the matter is, what they did is they added more black precincts, which is now the subject of the suit. But anyways, I’m leaving the grid on your question.

Section 25: 16:14 – 16:20 (0:06)
LA: So you’re saying we’re retrogressing and that Barber may be onto something?

Section 26: 16:20 – 16:49 (0:29)
MM: Yeah I think he may be onto something because if what they pass in 589 is allowed to stay in, you’re gonna see -they found out that may be in trouble with that bill, and they came back and tried to correct it, but in my opinion they made it worse, because what you’ve got to show is that they just put more loopholes in and more hurdles for voters.

Section 27: 16:49 – 17:00 (0:11)
LA: So my question there is, did you expect this considering that we’re 8 years into Obama’s presidency? Did you see this coming?

Section 28: 17:00 – 18:48 (1:48)
MM: No, I did not see this coming. I really didn’t. I thought that it had worked to a point to have a black president. I did not think I would see a black president in my lifetime. I never thought would see a women president in my lifetime. But it looks like if I don’t die tomorrow I’m about to see it all. I think the impetus came from the fact that -I’ll tell you what I told the Republicans when they took over. I said, we taught you all how to win elections. You took advantage of that and now you are in the majority and you can do whatever you wanna do. But the one thing that you didn’t learn and we didn’t teach you is how to govern. You don’t know what you are doing so you give us another 140 years and we will teach you how to govern. That’s just the bottom line in the whole thing. They have the power and now they can start retrogression all over again. There’s nothing stopping them, and they’re beginning to do it. You see bills being passed, for instance the Greensboro city council bill that passed, the Wake County commissioner’s bill that passed, they changed a whole thing that affected minority neighborhoods. There is nothing stopping them. They are going to be doing that as long as these things sit there which is why these court cases are important.

Section 29: 18:48 – 19:09 (0:21)
LA: So talking about why this happening, I wanted to address the issue of voter fraud and groups like the Voting Integrity Project. You may disagree with these groups and their methods, but the vote is special to them, just like it is to you. One could even argue that perhaps you’re trying to do the same thing, which is to protect the vote. What do you say to these people?

Section 30: 19:09 – 21:24 (2:15)
MM: Show me the fraud. I’m serious. It’s been proven, in North Carolina, less than 1/10 than 1% of fraud. I cannot recall and I don’t think anyone else can recall any case that have been tried for vote fraud in this state. I listened very closely when 589 came out. In these public hearings, they tried their darndest to say it was all to protect the vote and truth in voting. They called it the VIVA act, which I call the Voter Intimidation and Vilification Act -that’s my VIVA. What it does is it takes everything away. There was a testimony that came out in one of the public hearings. A lady from Durham came over and said, “Yes I have seen cases of fraud, I have seen where a dead man voted.” She made the mistake of naming the individual that she claimed was dead and had voted. I knew the individual, he was dead. But he wasn’t the one who voted. It was his son who who had his same name and lived at the same address that voted. Then someone from the mountains came out and said in Asheville they had 30 incidents of fraud. We contacted the board of elections in Asheville and there was no such thing. So show me the fraud. And that’s fine, If it is there it needs to be rooted out.

Section 31: 21:24 – 21:34 (0:10)
LA: Well, even if they have proved one or two cases, do you think if one vote is casted fraudulently, does that taint the election?

Section 32: 21:34 – 22:14 (0:40)
MM: No. Well no. Somebody is going to try to game the system. Don’t care what you do or what you’re involved in. It’s not like one rotten apple in the barrel. No, it’s not like that. You need to show me that people are gaming the situation all the way up and down the ladder, not one or two people. And when you find those one or two people, you prosecute them.

Section 33: 22:14 – 22:30 (0:16)
LA: In an interview you said that “Republicans don’t want black folks. They don’t want African Americans to vote.” However, your Republican counterparts are still insisting that this law isn’t about race. Do you believe them?

Section 34: 22:30 – 24:12 (1:42)
MM: No. No. We were the ones who got the voting rights act passed. We took advantage of the voting right acts and took advantage of it to a point that it inspired a nation to elect a black president. That black president gets elected and the first thing the republicans say is that president is not going to serve more than one serve. In his first term, one of the leaders in the republican party on the floor starting jumping up talking about photo ID. Somebody asked him a question and he said we are in charge now and we will do what we want to do. And me and my smart mouth jumped and said well we know who the President is and he sat down, shut up, and went on with his business. But yes, in my book they have a problem with black folks. Another example of that, the grassroots, the tea party folks in the Republican party in North Carolina elected a black chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. They not trying to get him out of office. They had never given him the opportunity to run that far. So they got a problem with black folks.

Section 35: 24:12 – 24:47 (0:35)
LA: I think Reverend Barber, I have a quote right here, is in agreement with you. He is saying that the Republicans are doing this because when Obama won they were threatened. Now they are doing this as an attempt to roll African American back, is what he says. But my question is does this just reflect a change in the legislature becoming more partisan? Is this just an attempt from Republicans to hang on to power? Where do you draw the line between race or disenfranchising a group of people and this being about power?

Section 36: 24:47 – 26:42 (1:55)
MM: Well it’s a little bit of both because minorities were beginning to gain some semblance of power particularly in the political arena. They were never really open to black folks being involved anyway in it. There was never any open invitation as far as African-Americans were concerned to become a strategic part. We had Michael Steel who was the Chairman of the National Republican Party for a little while but he didn’t last long either. Just long Asan is Chair of the North Carolina Republican Party. He is not lasting because they are trying to get their central committee to vote no confidence on him and now they are trying to go to convention I think they have one next month or something like that. They are trying to oust him. So to me it is a racial thing even though they deny that it is not racial. What else is it? In this last session, somebody called me and said “you guys are always raising the race question.” We don’t raise the race question. They raise the race question. I can remember several arguments on the floor of the house where we didn’t have to raise the race question because some of the tea party folks raised it themselves. How else can you interpret other than the fact that we were getting too bigoted, too uppity, to what not. We were beginning to become an integral part of our society.

Section 37: 26:42 – 26:51 (0:09)
LA: So are you saying this is more about prejudice and their own bias against a group of people rather than them trying to have power?

Section 38: 26:51 – 29:49 (2:58)
MM: It’s both. It’s both. They got the power and now they are going to use the power to in my book put down all the progress that has been made over 140 years, particularly in this state. If you go back and look at the history, and I don’t if you want all this or not but I’m going to give it to you anyway. If you go back to the Reconstruction Era, right after the Civil War. Black folks were in power then, particularly in the South and were grand purveyors of the Republican party. You had the only legislature in the South during Reconstruction after the Civil War was in South Carolina. They had a majority black legislature in South Carolina that put in public schools, cleaned up the hospitals, cleaned up the prisons and what not. Then you had a black Senator out of Louisiana. You had black congress people serving. You had blacks working all over the place during the reconstruction era. In 1876 during the Presidential election year, Democrat Samuel Tilman, who was the Governor of New York, won the Presidency, but there was a question, sort of like the situation that happened in Florida when Al Gore ran. There were three states that they had some problems with. March 4th 1877 was approaching, which was supposed to be the inauguration day, nothing had been settled on the Presidency. The Republicans came to the Democrats and said, “look if you put our man in the White House, we will pull the troops out of the South.” And, everybody agreed on that and Rutherford B. Hayes got to be President rather than Samuel Tilman. The Republicans pulled the troops out of the South. This was the post-reconstruction era we are in now when Jim Crow took effect with an openly anti-black democratic party. And that went all the way up until the late 20s when Oscar De Priest won a seat in Congress from Illinois in 1928 and then Franklin Roosevelt came in and began to move in another direction. That is my lesson in history.

Section 39: 29:49 – 30:12 (0:23)
LA: Since you are saying this is about race, I have a quote here that you said that “this is a party situation and that most African-Americans vote Democratic.” And how this has fed into, what you talked about before, your attempts to have early registration and to get more American-Americans, and therefore Democrats to vote. How is this any different? Isn’t this just a game of politics where you are trying to get more votes for your side and they are trying to get more (INTERRUPTS)

Section 40: 30:12 – 32:06 (1:54)
MM: Sure! That’s the name of the game. You get more votes for your side and you therefore have much more of a say. You can fight off anything that might be oppressive or anti or whatever. The numbers determine where you live, where you eat. The numbers determine what the government is going to be, how it is going to act, how you are going to live, and what you are going to. So yeah it is a question of numbers. I told somebody on the floor, “yeah I’m a Democrat, and I will go with any party that is going to tell me that I am free to do what I want to do without any indication of prejudice anywhere. If you are going to help me move forward, then yes I am going to be with you. The Republican party has shown no sign of wanting to even think about it. I mean, give me a break, even the recent legislation, this bill that we just passed, House Bill 2 that we just passed. They have antagonism towards gays, LGBT folks anyway. And if you say, alright we are going to pass an anti-discrimination law in this state so that the citizen counties don’t have to do it and you leave out sexual orientation or gender in there that now becomes a discriminatory stature. Yeah, it takes numbers and the only way you are going to reverse all of this is by numbers.

Section 41: 32:06 – 32:18 (0:12)
LA: My last question is why haven’t more democratic leaders come out and said so? It seems that they are hesitant to say this is about race.

Section 42: 32:18 – 32:48 (0:30)
MM: Because you have some democratic leaders that still have that whole mindset. It takes a little time to change them too. But once they see we bleed the same blood, we eat the same food, we have the same goals that everybody else has they are beginning to change their mind. There are Democrats in the legislature right now that think we should not be there.

Section 43: 32:48 – 32:52 (0:04)
LB: What is that mindset, exactly, that they are stuck in?

Section 44: 32:52 – 34:04 (1:12)
MM: The mindset is the old slave mentality mindset. In the hierarchy, you had the plantation owner, you had the slave clave, and then you had the slave. To keep that blue class white worker from trying to interfere with the plantation owner’s property and what not he made a lower class of people so that the plantation’s boss, the overseer, would have somebody to step on and wouldn’t be bucking the plantation owner. It’s that type of mentality. Let me give you a real crude example. There wasn’t a problem with heroin or cocaine in this country as long as they were confined to the black communities. Now it has hit the white communities and has now become a national problem. That is the type of mindset that you run into.

Section 45: 34:04 – 34:15 (0:11)
LB: And you think that your fellow Democratic Congressmen have that mindset, that are fighting with you?
MM: Legislators.
LB: Yes, legislators.

Section 46: 34:15 – 37:08 (2:53)
MM: Because we don’t have three Democratic Congressmen in this state. We now have three. There is no telling what we are going to have next week. Yeah, there are some folks that have that same mentality irrespective of how much education you have. I first went to the legislature in 1973, 1973 session was my first session. And I wondered what I had gotten myself into. To back up a little bit, Martin King is a close friend of mine, stayed with us and all of that. We used to talk all the time about how things were going. Martin was the one who said “Mickey you ought to be involved in politics.” I said, “Martin you are out of your mind, why would I be involved in politics?” You know, stuff like that. Anyway, I ran in 64, 66, and 68 and lost. In 64 I lost by 120 votes. In 66, I lost and they started to change the rules, you had to run for a particular seat and what not. And then in 68 I ran again, but that was the year Martin got killed and the fire went out in my belly so to speak and I just threw it out all together. But in 72, there came an open seat, we got an open seat in Durham county and I was encouraged to run at that point. By that time, I had been Chief Assistant District Attorney in Durham and gotten to know a whole lot of other folks and other things. Anyway, I got elected in 72, went to the 73 session. Before I got there, it dawned on me, here I am about to join the most powerful legislative body in the county. And the reason that was, was because the Governor in North Carolina did not have veto power so anything that passed the legislature was a law whether you liked it or not. You didn’t have a Governor to veto it and send it back to get the changes made. So I said here I am about to join this most powerful body, till I got on the floor and heard the first speech by a white Democrat. I said I’m home free because he showed me an ignorance that I didn’t think existed in anybody’s way of thinking. These are the things you learn along the way. That’s Obama’s problem. He’s smarter than most of those folks. That’s his whole problem. And you don’t expect that out of a black person. Long way of saying it.

Section 47: 37:08 – 37:13 (0:05)
ER: Sorry to jump in, I was just wondering, what was the racial representation like when you joined the legislature?

Section 48: 37:13 – 38:40 (1:27)
MM: There were three of us. Henry Frye, Joy Johnson, and me. Henry Frye was the first. Henry got elected in 1968. Joy Johnson got elected in 1970. I got elected in 1972. And we ran a game on the folks over there. Well we did. Joy Johnson was a minister and he was a hell raiser. I was the rebel. I came out of the Civil Rights Movement. Henry Frye was the conciliator. And we would run that game on them until we even got some of the legislation we introduced passed. And then white folks started coming to us to handle their legislation for them. But here again, grudgingly they did it. And I guess, if I want to point to something, in 2008, same year that Obama was elected, I was named Senior Chair of Appropriations for the state. I’m not supposed to have that kind of knowledge, but I served two terms as Senior Chair of Appropriation running the whole state budget. Which was a first, but I mean hey, anyway.

Section 49: 38:40 – 38:45 (0:05)
LB: Are you no longer serving in that position?

Section 50: 38:45 – 39:23 (0:38)
MM: Oh, no. I’m lucky to have a seat. When Republicans took over, the very first thing they said to Joe Hackney who had been the speaker before being relegated to Minority Leader, the first thing they told him was, “we will be alright if you shut Mickey Michaux up.” And Joe said, “we gon’ be in bad shape.”

Section 51: 39:23 – 39:40 (0:17)
LB: So you’ve dedicated your career to protecting voting rights for your constituents and making sure that they are accurately represented. This legislature has reversed much of that progress that you’ve made. How did you and other Democrats lose this fight?

Section 52: 39:40 – 39:43 (0:03)
MM: How did we what?
LB: Lose this fight.

Section 53: 39:43 – 41:46 (2:03)
MM: Well we lost it through the election process because the Republicans outvoted us. They got more folks in there and they got that supermajority in there now which allows them to do whatever they want to do.
Someone went to sleep at the wheel. And, uh, by not really doing what we had – by not following the principles that we had laid out they should not have done that. You know, there are a lot of things involved in this whole process, like redistricting for instance. They talk about gerrymandering and they said, “Well the Democrats did it so we can do it too.” But we never did gerrymandering as bad as they have done. In the ten, eleven, before that, 2000, 2001, 2002, our redistricting gave, we had thirteen representatives, congressional representatives: seven were Democrats, six were Republicans. We could have probably gerrymandered the same way they did and got them to ten and three but we didn’t do it that way. We kept our numbers so that we didn’t have veto-proof majorities. When we gerrymandered, so to speak, because you had roughly, well you had 52 Republicans and 68 Democrats in there which was basically representative of the way the population, the political population was. Now, they have gerrymandered so much. I mean, they’ve just gone down and just done a whole bunch of stuff, but anyway.

Section 54: 41:46 – 41:58 (0:12)
LB: I actually spoke with a congressman for Durham county, I’m forgetting whether he was – A democratic congressman… state congressman-

Section 55: 41:58 – 42:06 (0:08)
MM: Whoa, whoa whoa, back up. You’re talking about a U.S. congressman?

Section 56: 42:06 – 42:22 (0:16)
LB: No not congressman, legislator. State legislator. I keep making that mistake. I spoke with him the other day, and he was saying that the original redrawing of the districts, the new redrawing of districts for North Carolina had been revoked by a three judge panel, the first draft.

Section 57: 42:22 – 42:43 (0:21)
MM: Those were congressional districts, okay? There is a suit now which is going to be heard beginning April the 7th, next week, on state redistricting. We’re hoping we’re going to get the same result out of that that we got out of the congressional redistricting.

Section 58: 42:43 – 43:00 (0:17)
LB: In an interview you said that you were proud that you’ve been able to work in the legislature and give back to your community. Your constituents are clearly very important to you. Have they voiced concerns on this issue, on the voting rights issue?

Section 59: 43:00 – 43:21 (0:21)
MM: Oh, very definite, no question about it. Even statewide, even those people who were not my constituents have voiced concerns about it. But here in Durham, a liberal bastion, if you want to call it that, everybody has complained about it. But statewide Democrats, both black and white, complain about it.

Section 60: 43:21 – 43:29 (0:08)
LB: Have some of your constituents lost the ability to vote as a result?

Section 61: 43:29 – 44:59 (1:30)
MM: I haven’t heard of anybody but I do know that several of my friends who are constituents went to the wrong place a year or so ago and they wouldn’t let them vote there, do a provisional ballot there. Other than that, no.
The thing is that we’re going to succeed in spite of. We’re not going to end. You throw any roadblock, and we’ve had many, many roadblocks before and we’ve overcome those roadblocks. We’re not going to let these roadblocks they’re throwing up now deter us from trying to get them changed and the only way, if they think they’re going to discourage us by putting all of this in there, I think they got a different thought coming. It’s beginning to register now in the community that, in spite of what they’re trying to do to you, you got to get in there and keep fighting and do whatever it takes so that these numbers will begin to increase more and more and more and more. Like, as much as I hate photo ID, I’m encouraging folks, “Don’t let that deter you. If you go to a precinct and they say ‘This is not your precienct,’ Don’t let that stop you from going to the precinct that you’re supposed to go to. Don’t let anything deter you. Do it and then we can put it back to the way it should be.”

Section 62: 44:59 – 45:06 (0:07)
LB: Do you have any concerns now about reelection that you didn’t have before the new law?

Section 63: 45:06 – 45:11 (0:05)
MM: My reelection? I don’t have any opposition.

Section 64: 45:11 – 45:28 (0:17)
LB: Oh, okay. Well then no. {laughing from everyone} That’s easier for you I suppose. Well then, in 2008, the minority vote was the highest it had ever been. In 2010, Republicans dominated the vote. What happened?

Section 65: 45:28 – 46:45 (1:17)
MM: The drop-off was very apparent because this is one time we went to sleep at the switch. In 2008, Obama won North Carolina. In 2012, he didn’t win North Carolina by just a few votes. In, two years ago, 2014, Kay Hagan lost because she would not embrace the Obama platform which would have turned out more folks. It’s just that we thought we had it. Some folks thought we had it made now that Obama was sitting in the White House and forgot the fact that they had to keep up what they did in 2008. We’re getting back to that now. By 2020, things will change. In fact, we were proud last – in 2014, North Carolina was the only state in the Union where black folks in the legislature didn’t lose anybody. In fact, they gained an increase.

Section 66: 46:45 – 47:16 (0:31)
LB: In her Super Tuesday victory speech, Hillary Clinton specifically discussed North Carolina’s voting restrictions, stating that she plans to “break down barriers for voters in North Carolina who have been systematically disenfranchised.” Other states have passed similar voter ID laws, but why do you think that the state of North Carolina specifically is getting national attention over their own voting –

Section 67: 47:16 – 51:07 (3:51)
MM: Because the overreach. Not only photo ID but the other matters, what was cut out in 589. That was why, because we were on the road to progression. Vote was beginning to pick up. Folks were beginning to come into the state looking at it as a not necessarily liberal state but a state where everybody was being treated on an equal playing [field]. Education was moving up the ladder. I mean you got a bunch of folks in there now, they want to do away with public schools as we know them. Why would anybody now want to come into North Carolina when you’ve got, when you have opened up your voting process to where more folks were becoming, like I said, when you move from 46th to 11th, you know that you got a state that, people were already going to do that. But now, no. We are the laughing stock because we, once we were progressive, now we are retrogressive. We were once looked at as a beacon in the South because of guys like Terry Sanford, Bob Scott, all these folks who had forward looking ideas. Our whole education… our university system was our pride and one of the best systems, it was the best system in the country. Our community college system was the best system in the country. And we were making strides in our public education system. ‘Til these folks came and took over, then started cutting back. When I took over, I’ll give you an example, when I took over as senior chair of appropriations, we were in the midst of a terrific depression, they call it a recession – it was a depression we were in that time. If you go back and you think about it, the 43rd president of the United States got the United States out of debt. We were on a rosy road. The 44th president got us in a war, left us in a whole bunch of debt. The 45th president brought us out of it. So, I mean, North Carolina was looked as a, I mean, we were rated at the top in any category you wanted: in recruiting businesses, in quality of life, all of these things we were rated very highly. Now it’s going back down to 2. We had climbed to a point where we were 22nd in teacher pay, now we’ve gone back to being in the forties, we’re actually 49th in teachers’ pay. We had climbed the ladder in per pupil spending for students in our public schools; we have now gone back to 47th, 48th. We used to look down our nose at South Carolina. South Carolina’s per pupil expenditure is much higher than North Carolina. Their teacher pay is much higher than North Carolina. They have recruited not only one but two automobile industries in there and now have an airplane manufacturing plant in there. So, who’s looking down whose nose at who now? Because after the take over by the Republicans, none of this has happened. You pick up the paper this morning, you see a company that was coming into Durham county that was going to spend $20 million dollars and now they are rethinking that because of House Bill #2. These are headlines in this morning’s paper. I mean, hey.

Section 68: 51:07 – 51:16 (0:09)
LB: Why do you think these congressmen keep being elected that are making the state a retrogressive state?

Section 69: 51:16 – 53:08 (1:52)
MM: Because, well one reason is because of their redistricting and their gerrymandering and redistricting which is why now, they’re going to have to look at that in a different aspect since-. And we don’t know what the court is going to do with the new plans that have come in, they still haven’t made a decision on that yet. They may, well once, they haven’t made a decision on the congressional plan, final congressional plan came out, but they still got to deal with the state House and Senate races and if you look at the panel that’s going to hear that, you get the tendency that they may start turning that around also, and if it does go through the elections, we may be able to get rid of a lot of folks. But, under the current redistricting plan, they built it that way. They gave us our little black folks, they gave us our little niche and said, “Now you got yours, we don’t want to hear nothing from you.” And went on and did their thing. But now, with the division in their party, they’ve got very serious divisions in their party – in the state party now because the Tea Party folks have said that they are not conservative enough, said that the speaker, the current Republican speaker, and all the elite have left out the Tea Party. They’re just not conservative enough. Now they’ve got a big argument going. Almost the same type of argument going on on the local level that’s on the national level which if they keep going, it’s going to do away with the Republican party as you know it.

Section 70: 53:08 – 53:14 (0:06)
ER: So, if you had the opportunity to speak to younger people that wanted to get involved with voting rights issues, what would you say to them?

Section 71: 53:14 – 54:47 (1:33)
MM: Go for it! I mean, this is the only way that you can express… when I first got in office, one of the people who would come in the office would see me, the very first question I would ask: “Are you registered? Do you vote?” They say no, I don’t want to talk to you, because you don’t believe in yourself, why you coming and talking to me if you don’t go out there? So, you, as young people, you’ve got to learn it, you’ve got to learn the issues. I tell, especially young black folks, you’re not where you are today… you don’t know what it took to get you where you are today. Even white young folks, you are not there because… Our movement helped you. You wouldn’t have had Pell Grants, you wouldn’t have had… that you going to pay the rest of your life on – if you put us back in power, we’ll try to ease that up for you too {laughs} – but I mean, what, if you think back, you really think back on the situation, what we were fighting for not only helped us but it helped the entire body of politic because it freed up a lot of things. It’s just that simple. It was a whole freedom movement that freed up everybody, not just a particular race.

Section 72: 54:47 – 54:54 (0:07)
ER: So besides being registered to vote and educating yourself on current issues, what do you think is the most powerful thing young people can do to get involved?

Section 73: 54:54 – 55:34 (0:40)
MM: Get Involved! And I’m not saying that to be facetious or anything. You’ve got to understand that your very existence depends on the way that your government treats you, the way that your government operates. If you think government’s too big, if you think it’s too small, or if you think it’s not doing enough, if you’ve got ideas that you can present, you ought to do it. You have an obligation to do it. To enjoy what you are enjoying in this country, you’ve got an obligation to do it, to keep it up. And then you’ve got an obligation to make sure that everybody has that opportunity that you have.

Section 74: 55:34 – 55:45 (0:11)
LB: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that you haven’t talked about?

Section 75: 55:45 – 55:48 (0:03)
ER: Any specific topics you’d like to speak about?

Section 76: 55:48 – 55:55 (0:07)
MM: We could run the gambit.

Section 77: 55:55 – 56:13 (0:18)
PB: I’ll ask you a question from back here. So you describe yourself as a rebel in your early… What’s your view of the Black Lives Matter movement and how much contact do you have-?

Section 78: 56:13 – 57:05 (0:52)
MM: I don’t have any contact there but I… It’s an issue that cuts both ways: All lives to me matter. But when you begin to, things begin to fall disproportionately a certain way, then you have to take that. I mean, I believe that black lives matter, I believe white lives matter, but you’re not being subjected to what we’re being subjected to in terms of killings. So you have to… if maybe Black Lives Matter gets you to realize that all lives matter, the same way the civil rights movement made you believe that all people are equal.

Section 79: 57:05 – 57:23 (0:18)
PB: And I had one other question, what do you think Secretary Clinton has to do to inspire the kind of turnout and support among black voters that her husband had, that President Obama…?

Section 80: 57:23 – 58:29 (1:06)
MM: I think she’s done it, so far, she’s done it. But for the minority vote in the South that she’s received already, she would not be in the position that she’s in right now. Look at South Carolina, where black folks turned out and it’s going to take that kind – and she’s not pandering to anybody, she’s just helping folks move along and putting out a program that most folks can understand and can live with. She and Bernie Sanders are probably on the same page but its just the approach that they take, they both want to see things done but you have to be careful the approach you take in doing these things. Bernie has more social – I have a saying, say “We’ve got to get rid of the socialists in our midst and you all have got to get rid of the sociopath in your midst.” {laughing}

Section 81: 58:29 – 58:33 (0:04)
PB: You think there’s any chance that Donald Trump could be elected president?

Section 82: 58:33 – 1:0:53 (2:20)
MM: Yeah! I really do. Why? Because he is touching a nerve that nobody else seems to want to touch. He’s doing it in a very crude way. Even though we’ve come out of the recession, jobs are picking up, unemployment is low, all these, but wages have remained flat. People are not seeing the progress that they thought they should be seeing and that’s because of the recalcitrance of Congress which works in an opposite direction. When you’ve got a Congress sitting there, that their only thing, the only thing they got on their mind is making the president look bad. When Mitch McConnell comes in and says, “We’re going to make sure he’s a one-term president.” When you come up, the president says, “I’m going to nominate…” You know, it’s going to tickle me when, and I say this, when Hillary is elected president and this congress did not approve this presidential appointment to the Supreme Court and Hillary’s going to have to make an appointment to the Supreme Court and she’s going to appoint Obama to the Supreme Court. I mean, hey, others have done worse. Taft I think, was president one time that got appointed to the Supreme Court. That was Taft. But I mean, they better go ahead on and confirm this man while they got something they can be pretty sure of rather than wait. And, even if Trump gets – I don’t think Trump will get elected, I really don’t, there is a possibility he could but I think the Republican party right now, to me, is shot. I mean, if he is not given that nomination, he’s going to go out and fall in the third party. It’s going to be all of these angry, white folks that are going to be there who have seen their wages stay stagnant. It’s a weird time we’re living in.

Section 83: 1:0:53 – 1:1:01 (0:08)
ER: On a final note, we’ve talked about a lot of different topics. Is there anyone in mind that you think it would be helpful for us to speak to? Anyone else?

Section 84: 1:1:01 – 1:1:06 (0:05)
MM: Have you talked with G. K. Butterfield? The congressman for this?

Section 85: 1:1:06 – 1:1:20 (0:14)
PB: We’ve tried to reach him but he’s…
MM: Well he’s got new duties right now, he’s chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
PB: Yeah, we’ve talked to his people. We may still, we still have a couple of weeks so…

Section 86: 1:1:20 – 1:1:22 (0:02)
MM: Have you talked to Larry Hall?

Section 87: 1:1:22 – 1:1:23 (0:01)
PB: No.

Section 88: 1:1:23 – 1:1:41 (0:18)
MM: You need to talk to Larry Hall. Larry is, the technical word for it is the minority leader in the house but he doesn’t term himself the minority leader, he’s the democratic leader in the house….

Section 89: 1:1:41 – 1:2:59 (1:18)


Video by Cassidy Seggern.

Interview conducted by Emma Rose, Lauren Anders, and Laure Bender.