Reconstruction-Era Disfranchisement and Present-Day Voter Suppression

By Jasmine Tucker

Blacks exercising the right to vote during Reconstruction

Disfranchisement for African-Americans has been one of the many hurdles that Blacks have had to jump over. As early as the late 1870s, southern Democrats have worked to weaken Black political power. Violence and intimidation scared many Blacks from voting. White landlords would sometimes threaten or bribe Black sharecroppers and renters not to vote or to vote for the landlord’s candidates.

White leaders were concerned that if they forced what were then legally suitable barriers to voting – literacy tests, poll taxes, and property qualifications – they would also disfranchise many White voters. However, in 1882, South Carolina passed the Eight Box Law, a primal literacy test that required voters to deposit separate ballots for separate election races in the proper ballot box. Illiterate voters could not recognize the boxes unless White officials assisted them.

Mississippi made the most triumphant attempt to eliminate Black voters without openly violating the Fifteenth Amendment. In 1889, Black leaders from 40 Mississippi counties protested the “violent and criminal suppression of the black vote.” In response, White men called a constitutional convention to do away with the Black vote.

With 1 Black delegate and 134 White delegates, the convention formulated meticulous voting standards that – without mentioning race – disfranchised Black voters. Voting required proof of residency and payment of all taxes, including a $2 poll tax. A person convicted of arson or petty theft – crimes the delegates linked with Black people – could not vote. However, people convicted of so-called “White crimes” such as murder and rape could vote. The new Mississippi constitution also required voters to be literate, but illiterate men could still meet the criteria to vote by proving that they understood the constitution if it was read to them.

Black voting in South Carolina waned since the end of Reconstruction. Unhappy that even so few voters might decide an election, U.S. Senator Benjamin R. Tillman won support for a constitutional convention in 1895. The convention followed Mississippi’s lead and fashioned an “understanding clause” but not without a protest from Black leaders. Six Black men and 154 White men were elected to the South Carolina Convention including Robert Smalls who had been a delegate to the 1868 constitutional convention. The six Black men protested Black disfranchisement, even though their cries were not considered. White delegates didn’t even pretend that the elections should be fair.

In 1898, Louisiana added a new twist to disfranchisement. Its grandfather clause predetermined that only men who had been eligible to vote before 1867 – or whose father or grandfather had been eligible before that year – would be qualified to vote. Because most Black men had just emerged from slavery, practically none were qualified to vote before 1867, thus the law instantly disfranchised almost all Black voters. Except for Kentucky and West Virginia, each southern state had enacted complicated limitations on voting by the 1890s. As a result, very few Black men continued to vote, and none were elected to office.

In the meantime, Congressional Republicans made a last, ineffective attempt to protect Black- voting rights. In 1890, Massachusetts Congressman Henry Cabot Lodge introduced a bill to necessitate federal supervision of elections in congressional districts where fraud and intimidation were suspected. White southerners were furious and labeled it the “Force bill,” because they wrongly believed that it would force Black rule over White people.

This Federal Elections bill easily passed the House but failed in the Senate after a 33-day Democratic filibuster. That ended the last important congressional attempt to defend Black-voting rights in the South until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This week, Gene Demby of the Huffington Post wrote a truly compelling article that put a major emphasis on the importance of Black participation in the upcoming election season. The National Urban League recently posted a report that acknowledged the importance of black voter turnout in this upcoming election. The report focused on North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio, which are significant swing states during the election period.

According to the report, from 2004 to 2008, the Black voter turnout rate increased from 60% in 2004 to 65% in 2008. The study also revealed that Blacks are more likely to vote if they are registered. About 93% of registered Blacks voted in national elections compared to 90% of Whites and 84% of Hispanics. Young Blacks were the driving force behind the rush of African-Americans at the polls.

Voter ID laws may prevent certain groups of people from voting.

Due to these significant trends, Republican-dominated legislatures have approved voter ID laws that will require voters to present certain forms of official ID in order to vote. Proponents of the laws say they are intended to reduce voter fraud. However, voting rights organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, pinpointed that voter fraud is extremely uncommon, while others noticed that the demographic populations most affected by the legislation are African-Americans, Latinos, young people, and the poor, who usually vote Democrat.

In light of this new information, I could only think back to the many methods that were imposed on African-Americans to prevent them for voting. The ludicrous thing about this circumstance is that it’s preventing Blacks, but young people, the poor, and Latinos from voting for a Black man. I still find it hard to believe that there are still people trying to institutionalize racist acts and policies on people. However this time, it doesn’t only affect African-Americans, but a whole rainbow coalition of people.

The question now is, how do we make it stop? We teach our young children about all the barriers that Blacks had to fight to receive the right to vote. Nonetheless, they are living in a time were these barriers are being recycled into legislations that now require IDs to vote. All I can hope for is that in the midst of this political war of a campaign, someone in Congress will find the heart to deter these acts, so that our children will not have to fight for the same rights our ancestors fought for years before our time.

Jasmine Tucker is a senior sociology major/African-American Studies minor at Howard University. She’s also an educational issues intern at the American Federation of Teachers. Follow Jasmine on Twitter @YourQueen2Bee and friend her on Facebook.

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Jasmine Tucker: Religious Organizations and the Education of Black Children

By Jasmine E. Tucker

Nuns on a Bus Tour led by Sis. Simone Campbell

Every morning when I walk out of Union Station, I always grab a newspaper from the vendors outside on Massachusetts Avenue. One morning a few weeks ago, I opened a Washington Express paper and saw a group of elderly women on the inside. The women were just not brochure-peddling evangelists, but these nuns had created the Nuns on the Bus campaign. Sister Simone Campbell led a bus tour throughout the Midwest visiting cities such as Philadelphia, Columbus, Toledo, and concluding in Washington, D.C.

Their goal was to educate the community about the current House budget created by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan’s budget, entitled “The Path to Prosperity, is going to raise taxes on 18 million low-income families while cutting taxes for millionaires and big corporations. It would also push the families of 2 million children into poverty and kick 8 million people off of food stamps and 30 million off of health care. The Ryan budget would ultimately affect residents of Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin only.

Most importantly, the budget is going to completely reshape the education field. This budget will especially hit home for me, because I am a native of Columbus, Ohio. The budget will cut $72.6 million out of Ohio’s Head Start budget, which will result in 10,416 Head Start preschool slots being eliminated, and 3,300 lost jobs over the next two years. More than $110.8 million will be cut out of special education funding affecting over 60,000 special education students in the state of Ohio. Title I funding, which is used to aid low performing schools, will also be reduced immensely. Over 65,000 students will be affected by this change, and over 1,500 jobs will be lost with a reduction of Title I spending.

Rep. Paul Ryan holds a copy of the House budget

With the partnership of various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations, the Faithful Budget was created. The Faithful Budget, endorsed by the Nuns on the Bus campaign, is an alternative budget that provides a compromise that allows the wealthy to retain their wealth while uplifting the poor at the same time. In the education component of the Faithful Budget, the aims are to continue expanding education reform rather than allow Congressman Ryan to debilitate it.

I applaud Sister Simone’s efforts to reform education through an alternative budget, however I think the private religious sector may underestimate its power. If it reappropriates its efforts in a way that does not involve politics, it has the possibility of creating substantial social change. In a world where Washington politicians make all of the major decisions, the well being of African-Americans will always be last on the agenda.

A new source of power needs to be reintegrated into the African-American community. There was once a time when religious groups were able to create and sustain institutions that benefited the well being of the African-American community. Religious organizations have the capability to unite and make some major changes for the education agenda. One organization made a key impact on education for African-Americans, and its evidence is still manifesting today.

During the late 1860s and 1870s, Northern churches and religious societies established dozens of normal academies and colleges in the South. A majority of the institutions taught elementary and secondary education. Only a small amount of Black students were prepared for college level work. The American Missionary Association – an abolitionist and Congregationalist organization – collaborated with the Freedmen’s Bureau to create Fisk in Nashville, Hampton in Virginia, Tougaloo in Alabama, and Avery in South Carolina.

The American Missionary Association

These institutions implemented a curriculum based on elementary and secondary education, liberal education, and vocational education. AMA’s primary goal was to train black students to become teachers. AMA was instrumental in sending teachers and clergymen to the South to cater to the spiritual and educational needs of the freedmen.

AMA made a significant contribution by stepping from behind the pulpit and going into the community and creating sustenance. The church was able to fundraise by holding bazaars, hosting bake sales, and creating missionary and quilting societies to pay for their major projects. Some churches are doing great things by creating Christian academies and summer education programs, but collectively they can do so much more.

Imagine if Potter’s House, World Changers Church, Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York, and New Birth Missionary Baptist were to establish a campaign to raise funds for new Christian schools across the country. With the revenue that they earn in their churches and from fundraising, they could afford to maintain schools that teach African-American children. The Christian churches have the revenue and members to contribute a great deal to providing an alternative education program for African-American children. If they can feed the poor, conduct missionary trips, and still place ATMs in their churches, then they can create schools and provide books and teachers for our Black children.

Jasmine Tucker is a senior sociology major/African-American Studies minor at Howard University. She is also an educational issues intern at the American Federation of Teachers. Follow Jasmine on Twitter @YourQueen2Bee.