All of this got me thinking about the right to vote and how so many people take it for granted in this country.
The island that I live on is predominantly African-American in terms of demographics. It is one of the remaining Gullah settlements in the region. So I did a little research on voting rights for African-Americans in this country. Here are some of the facts that I found:
- Blacks actually didn't have the right to vote at the end of the Civil War. Southern states put together governments excluding Blacks from voting.
- In March 1866, angry leaders of the United States Congress passed a civil rights bill saying a citizen in the United States is anyone born in the United States, except Native Americans. The bill also guaranteed equal rights to all citizens no matter what race, and allowed the federal government to step in when the states failed to protect those rights.
- About a month later, the legislature issued the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It stated that all people who were born in the United States, including African-Americans, are considered natural citizens and have the same rights as all other Americans. It also prohibited any state from making or enforcing any laws that took away or hurt an individual’s civil rights.
- In 1867 and 1868, the southern state constitutions during this period favored Blacks and gave them voting rights without the earlier voting rules. They could also hold public office. This equality didn't last long. The Ku Klux Klan formed in the South to threaten Blacks and take away their power.
- From the 1870's through most of the 1900's, Blacks were blocked from voting by threats of violence, being made to take reading and writing tests (some Blacks couldn't read or write so they couldn't pass the tests), and many other voting rules designed to keep Blacks from voting. Some states passed laws that required people to pay a poll tax before voting. This tax did not involve a large amount of money, but many blacks (and poor whites) either could not or would not pay it.
- It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon Johnson over 100 years after the Civil War ended, that it became illegal to stop Blacks from voting. Blacks were finally guaranteed their voting rights in 1965.
I'm grateful that I have a room full of books and resources where I can check facts, be informed, and grasp what freedom truly means in terms of the Constitution.
I'm grateful for being able to have my own opinions about something without fear of reprisal.
I'm grateful that there is a feeling of hope and change in the air.
I'm grateful that the healing after a long divisive campaign can begin.