The late Rep. John Lewis said it best in 2012: “The vote is valuable; it is nearly sacred. It is the single most effective nonviolent tool in a civilized and peaceful society like ours.” But we have to put it to good use. Having fought for the right to vote in America himself, I think Congressman John Lewis was aware of this.
Our “founding fathers” envisioned a fair and just democracy for all in their writings. However, this ideal was not realized in the early American experiment, and white landowners had voting rights. Over time, regulations were altered to permit states to determine their own election procedures, allowing farmers and commoners to vote but not all citizens. In 1776, New Jersey granted everyone the right to vote but later stripped women and Black men of their voting privileges. Native Americans, African Americans, women, and immigrants were denied the right to vote, while Maryland banned Jewish voters.
The 15th Amendment assured citizens could not be denied the right to vote based on race, color or previous servitude. However, it also allowed states to regulate elections as they saw fit.
White Mississippi Democrats were shocked when two Republican Black men, Hiram R. Revels of Natchez and Blanche K. Bruce of Bolivar County, joined the Senate following the American Civil War in 1865. In 1881, white leaders and citizens intimidated voters to restore white Democrats to power in Mississippi. Mississippi was one of the first states to enact a “grandfather clause” allowing registration of anybody whose grandfather was eligible to vote before the Civil War. This voter-suppression method reduced Black men’s voting eligibility from 90% to 6% in 1892.
Women were still unable to vote. Many states used poll taxes, literacy exams and English-language requirements to suppress the votes of minorities and the poor, especially African Americans and immigrants. Jim Crow Laws were the result of such practices. A similar campaign was ongoing in Mississippi and the other southern states for close to a century.
The predominantly Republican Mississippi Legislature of 1870 appointed Hiram R. Revels of Natchez, Miss., (left) was appointed to
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