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Know Your Black History: the 15th Amendment

153 years ago, on February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified, which granted African American men the right to vote by prohibiting the federal government and each state from denying or abridging a citizen's right to vote "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. First passed by Congress on February 26, 1869, the Amendment was still subjected to a difficult year-long ratification process by several states. (Voting rights for women (Black and White) would not be passed until 1920 with the 19th Amendment.)

Nonetheless, the impact of Fifteenth Amendment was momentous. For the first time ever, Black men in the U.S. were rushing to the polls to exercise their right to fair political representation. After the ratification of the Fifteenth, state governments across the entire country became remarkably biracial. The first Black representatives joined Congress in 1870 (Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina) with a total of sixteen members serving in the House and two in the Senate between 1870 and 1881. However, with the end of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow laws, racist voting suppression became the norm. After 1881, only 16 Black representatives would serve in the House, and none in the Senate until 1967. Although the Fifteenth Amendment was an important step towards racial equality, much of the promise of the 15th amendment (and the 19th for Black women) had to wait until the Civil Rights victories of the 1960s. Although voting rights for Black people have improved, legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is still needed to ensure fair practices.

Check out this short 1.5 minute video to learn about the 15th Amendment by historian Yohuru Williams!


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