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Thu, 02.03.1870

The 15th Amendment, an ongoing story

Drawing from Southern University

*On this date in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. This guaranteed African American men the right to vote.

The 15th Amendment maintains "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by a State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The text also gives Congress the power to enforce the amendment.

Although blacks had been freed from American slavery and made citizens after the Civil War by the 13th and 14th Amendments, Southern states used a variety of tactics, including violence, to keep Blacks from voting, and even some Northern states had not given Blacks the franchise.  Radical Republicans in Congress proposed the 15th Amendment to rectify this problem.

Most blacks and whites alike, believed that the franchise was the best guarantee for progress and success for the freed people. Most whites felt that the right to participate in the political process was, really, all the nation-owed former slaves really wanted. But debate immediately arose over how strongly worded the amendment should be. Many Republicans feared that if the language were not strong, the South would keep Blacks from voting through poll taxes and violence. Other Republicans, however, believed that all states — Northern and Southern — should have the right to keep illiterate citizens from voting. Fears of the growing influence of foreign immigrants popularized the literacy test to limit their power.

The resulting compromise was the 14th Amendment, which was ratified with the help of Reconstruction governments in the South, but which soon proved incapable of guaranteeing the permission for Blacks. Not until the 20th century would the Supreme Court invoke the 15th Amendment in striking down state grandfather clauses and white primaries. But such changes had little effect on Black voting; during World War II, only 5 percent of Southern Blacks were registered to vote. Not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did discrimination in voting begin to end and courts enforce the 15th Amendment.

Add to this the argument over the 2000 presidential vote count in Florida and there seems to still be room for proper rights at the ballot box for African Americans.  This movement was supported in diversity influence in the 2008 and 2012 presidential vote and was suppressed again in 2016 and the mid-terms in 2018 as well.

Reference:
Library of Congress
101 Independence Avenue S.E.
Washington D.C. 20540

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