There’s a cultural reckoning upon us, and Black executives can no longer keep silent.
More than 70 prominent Black business leaders have signed a letter urging U.S. companies to battle against restrictive voting rights, following a bill that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law last week which includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run.
The law is an attempt to disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color following Black voters and organizers in Georgia who worked to turn the state blue in the previous election. President Joe Biden called the bill “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “un-American” while Stacey Abrams has described the Republican efforts as “racist” and “a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie.”
“As Black business leaders, we cannot sit silently in the face of this gathering threat to our nation’s democratic values and allow the fundamental right of Americans, to cast their votes for whomever they choose, to be trampled upon yet again,” the letter reads. “We call upon our colleagues in Corporate America to join us in taking a non-partisan stand for equality and democracy. Each of us stands ready to work with you on what can and must be done.”
Led by Kenneth Chenault, the former CEO of American Express, who was also one of the first Black chief executives at a Fortune 500 company and outgoing Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, the effort calls for corporations to “publicly oppose any discriminatory legislation and all measures designed to limit Americans’ ability to vote.”
Other executives who plead their support in the letter include Ursula Burns, the former CEO of Xerox and current board member of Uber, René F. Jones, Chair and CEO of M&T Bank, Google executive Bonita C. Stewart, Roger Ferguson Jr., the CEO of TIAA, Raymond McGuire, the former Citi executive who is running for mayor of New York City, and Richard Parsons, the former Time Warner CEO and former member of President Barack Obama’s economic advisory team.
“There is no middle ground here,” Chenault said. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.” Another Black executive, Citigroup CFO Mark Mason, who was not one of the letter’s signatories, called the bill a “disgrace” in a LinkedIn post.
A number of companies issued statements later Wednesday, after the Frazier and Chenault interview, that expressed support for voting rights.