After returning residence from human being War II, veteran Medgar Evers decided to poll in a Mississippi election. However when he and also some other black ex-servicemen attempted come vote, a white mob stopped them. “All we wanted to it is in was plain citizens,” Evers later related. “We fought during the battle for America, Mississippi included. Now, after ~ the Germans and Japanese hadn’t eliminated us, it looked as though the white Mississippians would....”


Grave of civil civil liberties activist Medgar Evers in Arlington national Cemetery. (Wikimedia Commons)

The most straightforward right the a citizens in a democracy is the right to vote. There is no this right, people can be conveniently ignored and even abused by their government. This, in fact, is what happened to African-American citizens living in the South complying with Civil battle Reconstruction. Despite the 14th and also 15th Amendments guaranteeing the civil legal rights of black Americans, their appropriate to vote was systematically taken far by white supremacist state governments.

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Voting throughout Reconstruction

After the civil War, congress acted to protect against Southerners native re-establishing white supremacy. In 1867, the Radical republic in Congress imposed federal military dominance over many of the South. Under U.S. Army occupation, the previous Confederate says wrote brand-new constitutions and also were readmitted to the Union, however only ~ ratifying the 14th Amendment. This repair amendment prohibited claims from denying “the equal protection of the laws” come U.S. Citizens, which included the former slaves.

In 1870, the 15th Amendment to be ratified. It proclaimed that, “The best of citizens of the United claims to poll shall no be denied or abridged by the United claims or by any State on account of race, color, or previous problem of servitude.”

More than a half-million black color men became voters in the South during the 1870s (women did no secure the ideal to vote in the United claims until 1920). For the most part, these new black voters actors their ballots solidly because that the Republican Party, the party of the an excellent Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.

When Mississippi rejoined the Union in 1870, previous slaves made up more than half of the state’s population. During the following decade, Mississippi sent out two black U.S. Senators to Washington and elected a number of black state officials, consisting of a lieutenant governor. However even though the new black citizens poll freely and in large numbers, whites to be still elected to a huge majority that state and also local offices. This was the sample in many of the southern states throughout Reconstruction.

The Republican-controlled state federal governments in the southern were solid perfect. Numerous citizens complained around overtaxation and outright corruption. Yet these governments lugged about far-ranging improvements in the stays of the previous slaves. Because that the an initial time, black men and also women appreciated freedom the speech and also movement, the appropriate of a fair trial, education and learning for your children, and all the various other privileges and also protections of American citizenship. However all this adjusted when Reconstruction ended in 1877 and federal troops withdrew from the old Confederacy.

Voting in Mississippi

With federal troops no longer existing to protect the civil liberties of black color citizens, white prominence quickly went back to the old Confederate states. Black color voting dropped off sharply in most areas because of dangers by white employers and also violence from the Ku Klux Klan, a ruthless secret organization bending on preserving white prominence at all costs.

White majorities began to vote the end the Republicans and also replace them with autonomous governors, legislators, and local officials. Laws were quickly passed banning interracial marriages and also racially segregating railroad cars along with the public schools.

Laws and also practices were also put in place to make sure blacks would never again openly participate in elections. But one problem stood in the way of denying afri Americans the right to vote: the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed them this right. To a good extent, Mississippi led the means in overcoming the obstacle presented by the 15th Amendment.


Hiram Rhodes Revels was the an initial African American to offer in the U.S. House of Representative and also later the Senate. Revels offered in congress from 1870 come 1871, representing Mississippi. (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1890, Mississippi organized a convention to write a new state structure to replace the one in force since Reconstruction. The white leaders of the convention were clear about their intentions. “We came below to exclude the Negro,” claimed the convention president. Because of the 15th Amendment, they can not half blacks native voting. Instead, they wrote into the state constitution a variety of voter limitations making it daunting for many blacks to it is registered to vote.

First, the new constitution forced an annual poll tax, i m sorry voters had actually to salary for 2 years before the election. This to be a difficult economic burden to place on black Mississippians, who made up the poorest part of the state’s population. Countless simply can not pay it.

But the most formidable voting barrier put right into the state constitution was the literacy test. It compelled a human being seeking to it is registered to vote to read a section of the state constitution and explain it come the ar clerk that processed voter registrations. This clerk, who was constantly white, made decision whether a citizens was literate or not.

The literacy test go not just exclude the 60 percent of voting-age black males (most of lock ex-slaves) who might not read. That excluded nearly all black color men, since the clerk would select complicated technical passages because that them to interpret. By contrast, the clerk would pass whites by picking simple sentences in the state constitution for them come explain.

Mississippi additionally enacted a “grandfather clause” that allowed registering anyone whose grandfather was qualified come vote prior to the polite War. Obviously, this benefited only white citizens. The “grandfather clause” as well as the various other legal obstacles to black voter it is registered worked. Mississippi cut the portion of black voting-age males registered to poll from an ext than 90 percent during Reconstruction to much less than 6 percent in 1892. These actions were duplicated by many of the other states in the South.

The Winds the Change

As a result of intimidation, violence, and racial differentiate in state poll laws, a only 3 percent that voting-age black men and women in the southern were registered to poll in 1940. In Mississippi, much less than 1 percent were registered. Many blacks that did vote stayed in the bigger cities the the South.

By not having the strength of the ballot, afri Americans in the south had little influence in their communities. They did no hold elected offices. They had actually no say in just how much their taxes would be or what laws would it is in passed. They had little, if any, control over neighborhood police, courts, or public schools. They, in effect, to be denied their civil liberties as citizens.

Attempts to readjust this case were met through animosity and also outright violence. But in the 1950s, the polite rights activity developed. Facing enormous hostility, black people in the South arranged to demand their civil liberties guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. They introduced voter registration drives in numerous Southern communities. This collection the stage for an excellent changes in the 1960s, however not without tragedy. Medgar Evers, the black veteran quit by a white crowd from voting, ended up being a civil legal rights leader in his indigenous Mississippi. Because of his civil legal rights activities, he was shot and killed in prior of his residence by a white segregationist in 1963.

For Discussion and WritingWhat legal devices did Southern states use to exclude most of their black color citizens indigenous voting? What other approaches were offered to prevent blacks from voting?What to be unfair about the method literacy exam were supplied for voter registration in the south from 1890 come 1965?What were the after-effects to afri Americans of gift excluded from voting in the segregated South?For additional Reading

McMillen, Neil R. Dark Journey: black color Mississippians in the period of Jim Crow. Urbana, Ill.: college of Illinois Press, 1990.

Bond, Julian & Juan Williams. Eyes top top the Prize: America’s Civil legal rights Years, 1954–1965. brand-new York: Penguin Books, 1988.

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A C T i V ns T Y

Who have to Not Vote?

All states have some poll restrictions. Are they necessary? listed below are five timeless restrictions ~ above the best to vote. Form small groups to decision whether your state need to retain each of this restrictions. Before making a decision on every restriction, the group should discuss and write answers to these two questions:

What room some factors favoring the restriction?What space some reasons against the restriction?

After the groups have finished your work, every restriction need to be discussed and voted on through the entire class.