Losing The Right To Vote

Submitted By mikaelamd88
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Pages: 3

Losing the right to vote. The end of Reconstruction did not mean an end to African‐American political influence in the South. Blacks continued to serve in several state legislatures as late as 1900 and were even elected to Congress after 1877, albeit from all‐black districts. However, a change took place in the 1890s as attitudes about race became more strongly felt and the prospect of an electoral alliance between poor whites and blacks that could threaten the power structure became a possibility. While the Fifteenth Amendment ensured that African‐Americans could not be denied the right to vote simply because they were African‐American, the southern states came up with various ways to disenfranchise blacks.

Mississippi's 1890 constitution imposed limitations on voting that were aimed primarily at African‐Americans. These limitations included residency requirements, disqualification of individuals convicted of even minor crimes, payment of all taxes (including the poll tax), and a literacy test. Loopholes existed within these restrictions to favor whites who might have been otherwise ineligible to vote. For example, an illiterate person who could demonstrate to the registrar that he “understood” the constitution would be allowed to vote. Louisiana adopted the so‐called grandfather clause, which allowed men to vote if their fathers or grandfathers had been eligible to vote as of January 1, 1867. No blacks had the right to vote anywhere in the South at that time. Although the Supreme Court ultimately declared the grandfather clause unconstitutional, this and similar laws drastically cut African‐American voter registration in the South by 1900.

The African‐American response. Blacks responded to increasing discrimination in several ways. The initial wave of the Great Migration of African‐Americans, moving from the rural South to the urban North, began in the 1890s, and there was a very small emigration back to Africa as well. Former slaves established all‐black towns in Tennessee, Kansas, and the Oklahoma Territory, and organized early civil rights organizations such as the Citizens