History of Black America's Voting Rights

This a picture of a voting rights demonstration in McComb, Miss., in 1962. McComb was the site of the some of the most violent repression of civil rights. Many churches and houses were bombed. Many people died or were arrested. PHOTO: University of Southern MississippiA voting rights demonstration in McComb, Mississippi in 1962. McComb was the site of violent repression of civil rights. Many churches and houses were bombed. Many people died or were arrested. PHOTO: University of Southern Mississippi


Mississippi’s Freedom Summer

Mississippi in the 1960s was a tough time and place for African Americans. African Americans were being murdered, lynched and terrorized to prevent them from voting, even though the 15th Amendment, passed almost 100 years earlier, allowed black males to vote.

In the fall of 1963, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) wanted to prove that if blacks were not harassed, they would come out in large numbers to vote. They held a mock election called the 1963 Freedom Vote and 80,000 black citizens went through the process of registering to vote, learning about the candidates and casting a ballot. But still, African Americans were intimidated and met with violence.

The 1964 Freedom Summer project brought more than 1,000 northern students, professionals and volunteers of different ethnic backgrounds, trained in Oxford, Ohio, to help with voter registration, freedom schools and other social programs in Mississippi. The intimidation continued. COFO civil rights and anti-racism activists Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner were jailed by the police and killed by the Ku Klux Klan while they were on their way to investigate the burning of a black church.

Today, 251,000 African Americans living in Mississippi are not registered to vote, according to Mr. Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP. Mr. Johnson stresses how important it is for kids to think critically and evaluate what’s going on in public offices in their towns and who’s serving so that they will be prepared to actively participate by the time they are old enough to vote.

More Information

COFO was an umbrella organization consisting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial equality (CORE) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

KheelWomen garment workers voting in 1913. PHOTO: Flickr/Kheel center

Who Got The Right To Vote When? Check Out this Timeline

1790: Only white men are considered citizens and allowed to vote.

1863: President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all enslaved Africans in the northern region of the United States will be free.

1867: Congress passes the Reconstruction Act, which recognizes African Americans as citizens and grants African American men the right to vote.

1870: the 15th amendment guarantees African American males the right to vote.

1876: In United States v. Reese, the U.S. Supreme Court held that certain restrictions to voting, like the poll tax, were constitutional, and opened the door to further disenfranchisement.

1890-1920: Known as the Progressive Era, women gradually gained the right to vote, over the course of 30 years.

1924: Native Americans are granted citizenship, but not all Native Americans gained the right to vote until 1956.

1952: Asians who moved to the United States from a different country can become citizens.

1965: President Johnson signs a very strict voting rights bill outlawing the literacy test as a requirement to vote.

1975: President Richard Ford signs a bill that extends voting rights to citizens who speak languages other than English.

2008: Barack Obama becomes the first African American president.

2011: Mississippi, along with other states passes a law requiring voters to present a “government-issued photo identification,” in order to cast a ballot. However, the law might not yet be effective for the November 2012 presidential election.

5 thoughts on “History of Black America's Voting Rights”

  1. Daphne Chamberlain

    As we enter into a critical election season, this article captures the essence of what it means to be able to vote and why participation in the political process is so important. Children have a hand in changing the world in which they live, and they can be a great influence to older generations as demonstrated in the 1962 picture of the McComb students. Today’s youth should be empowered and can be just as effective. Great article! Way to go, Sizwe!

  2. Mr. Chapman presents a concise yet detailed history of the struggle of African American persons to live free in the “land of the free”. I particularly like the timeline as it illustrates the perpetual struggle of our country and communities to define who we are as a people. As a country that values freedom for its citizens and individual rights for all, we will continue to grapple with the balance of these ideologies as our society becomes increasingly diverse. I appreciate the “Tell us what you think” questions and offer my sentiments. Children grow up and they will own a right to vote. We must teach them to appreciate knowledge of our past, create enthusiasm for participation, and instill responsibility for stewardship through voting and community service. We need to help them understand the necessity of struggle to prevent the unthinkable consequences of indifference. Thank you, Mr. Chapman for sharing this well-written article on a matter that will always be important.

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