This February 3rd marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of 15th Amendment to the Constitution. The 15th Amendment declared that 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.”
For a brief period of time after its ratification, African-American men were able to vote. The new influx of African-American voters brought sweeping changes in the South, including the rise of the Republican Party and the election of Sen. Hiram R. Revels, the first of a dozen African-American men to serve in Congress during the Reconstruction Era.
Unfortunately, as the 1870s drew to an end, so did the enforcement of the Constitutional protections granted by the 15th and 14th Amendments. Through the use of poll taxes, disparate application of literacy and citizenship test, Jim Crow Laws, violence and intimidation, many states undermined the Constitution and denied the vote to African-Americans, once again.
It wasn’t until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed by Lyndon B. Johnson nearly a century later, that the 15th Amendment began to be enforced. In 1964, the 24th Amendment banned poll taxes in Federal elections, and in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) the U.S. Supreme Court overruled prior case law and determined that state poll taxes are unconstitutional.
February is National African American History Month, and this year’s theme is the “African Americans and the Vote.” Additionally, this year marks not only the sesquicentennial of the 15th Amendment but the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. Let us take this opportunity to remember the work that prior generations have done to protect our democracy and celebrate by registering to vote and voting in the California primary elections on March 3rd!