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Blacks continue fight to secure voting rights

Freddie Allen | 12/2/2013, 1:57 a.m.

NNPA

WASHINGTON – When lawmakers ratified the 15th Amendment in 1870, protecting voting rights for Blacks, opponents of the law lashed out, violently at times, employing literacy tests, poll taxes and fraud in an effort to disenfranchise the new voters. It would be nearly 100 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed many of those practices, ushering in a “new era in American democracy.”

A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, focused on the economic conditions of low- and middle-income families, chronicles past struggles and highlights current roadblocks that attempt to dilute the Black vote.

The report titled, Voting Rights at a Crossroads is the latest in the Unfinished March series that looks at the ambitious goals of the 1963 March on Washington and the work that is still needed to accomplish those goals.

According to the report, just one year before the historic march less than 30 percent of voting-aged Blacks were registered to vote in 11 states in the south, where most Blacks lived. A year later, Blacks still faced significant hardships exercising their right to vote.

“In 1964, in the five southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, only 22.5 percent of voting-age African Americans were registered to vote,” the report stated. “Particularly troubling, in Mississippi, only 5.1 percent of voting-age African Americans were registered, compared with 94.9 percent of Whites.”

The abysmal voter registration record for Blacks was due largely in part to the discrimination that Blacks faced, often at the hands of state and local officials.

Despite a number of federal laws crafted to bolster voter protections under the 15th Amendment, state and local officials continued a concerted effort to prevent Blacks from voting, including limiting or changing the registration period, requiring Blacks to get references from Whites to register, literacy tests and poll taxes.

When poor Whites complained about some of the laws that limited their voting rights, many states passed “grandfather” clauses that allowed White citizens, who were eligible to vote before the restrictive laws were passed, to continue to vote. The grandfather clauses extended to their descendants and excluded Blacks.

The report said that the success of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom inspired civil rights leaders to push for better voting protections under the law.

“The idea appealed to the civil rights leaders of the day, and the resulting March for Jobs and Freedom refueled the Civil Rights Movement’s resolve to pass a voting rights law that delivered on the promise of voting rights for all,” the report stated. “The over 200,000 marchers who converged on the mall in Washington, D.C., were fully aware that the right to vote was inextricably tied to overcoming the socioeconomic problems they endured.”

The report continued: “Their determined campaign resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, seminal pieces of legislation that transformed American democracy.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the political landscape and voting in the United States in ways that the 15th Amendment couldn’t. It banned the use of “tests and devices” with Section 2 and installed federal voting officials and observers at polling places.