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African Americans and the vote 2020: The 15th Amendment and Voters Act

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lee Mathews
  • 341st Civil Engineer Squadron

The Founding Fathers signed the United States Constitution in the summer of 1787. There were 33 amendments proposed since the original signing, however, as of 2011, only 27 currently exist.

The 15th Amendment, most notably known as the last of the Civil War amendments, states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Nevertheless, over decades Southern states have implemented various discriminatory practices to prevent African Americans from exercising their legal right to vote.

It wasn’t until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed African Americans unimpeded access to vote and overcome all legal barriers imposed by state and local governments.

The act banned the use of literacy tests and other discriminatory means that would otherwise prevent African Americans from voting.

Just how were literacy tests used to discriminate against African Americans?

Blacks attempting to vote were often told by election officials they had the date, time or polling place wrong; they possessed insufficient literacy skills or they had filled out an application incorrectly.

Blacks, whose population suffered a high rate of illiteracy due to centuries of oppression and poverty, would be forced to take literacy tests, where they sometimes failed.

Johnson also told Congress that voting officials, primarily in Southern states, had been known to force black voters to “recite the entire U.S. Constitution or explain the most complex provisions of state laws,” a task most white voters would have been hard-pressed to accomplish.

In some cases, even blacks with college degrees were turned away from the polls.