*Twenty two* African Americans served in Congress during the 1800s after the Civil War. Right before Southern racists took voting rights away from black people again.
After the Civil War many Americans could vote for the first time: black men. Women of course couldn’t vote in most states at this time. The highest voter turnout on record in history is 1876 when of eligible voters 82% voted! Today just half of us vote. (Pic by @charlypalmer60)
After the North won the Civil War and enslaved people were freed, several Southern states discovered they actually had a majority black population! (or very close) For racists whites this was a big uh oh moment. They realized they had to act fast to keep white supremacy intact.
The very first black man elected to federal office was denied a seat in Congress because southern racists wanted to keep the chamber white-only. In 1868 John Willis Menard won 64% of the vote in a Louisiana special election. But the House of Representatives refused to seat him.
Southern racists tried to block the first black Senator from taking office in 1870. They attempted to disqualify Hiram Revels on a technicality: Senators have to have been citizens for at least 9 years. They said he hadn’t been a citizen until the end of slavery. But he won.
For simplicity I use the terms “northern liberals” and “southern racists” instead of using political party names. In the Civil War era Republicans were the northern liberal abolitionists and the Democrats were southern conservative racists. (They’ve obv changed polarity since.)
The phrase “40 acres and a mule” comes from a promise that Northern Union General Sherman made to Freedmen after the Civil War. Reparations. After Sherman’s president (Abraham Lincoln) was assassinated, a conservative southerner took power and got rid of that promise.
Right after the Civil War ended in 1865, the US went through an enormous period of social change akin to the 1960s a century later. We passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional Amendments which explicitly spelled out the promise of racial equality in our constitution.
We call the period of time after the Civil War “Reconstruction.” Sadly, apart from passing some critical Constitutional amendments, Reconstruction basically failed because white power found ways to re-entrench itself in the South.
To defeat Reconstruction, racist southern whites found all sorts of ways to make sure they remained a majority of voters, even when they weren’t a majority of the population. For instance they required you to pay to vote. This wasn’t outlawed until the 24th Amendment in 1962.
For a century, racist southerners used literacy tests to keep many blacks from voting even though they technically had the right to. These tests took advantage of the fact that schools were segregated and few African Americans had a formal education equal to whites.
Poll taxes & literacy tests were subtle compared to other techniques that racist whites used to keep African Americans from voting. The KKK was founded the same year the Civil War ended. As the first official big “terrorist organization,” the KKK simply lynched black voters.
Even though three Southern states had majority black populations after the Civil War, the new trend of black elected officials began to fade away thanks largely to voter suppression. Reconstruction basically paused for 100 years until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
The trend of southern conservatives denying votes to black people DID NOT END with the end of Jim Crow laws in the 1960s. Recently North Carolina Republicans were caught drawing district lines to create an illegal racial gerrymander.
Republicans in states like North Carolina have been caught doing secret studies on “how black people vote” and then cutting off access to those popular methods, like early voting. These suppression efforts targeted blacks with “surgical precision” according to a federal court.
Once you know enough about the history about racist voter suppression, something becomes immediately clear: Voter ID laws, which disproportionately affect low income voters of color, is only the latest in a 150 year trend of conservatives trying to deny votes to black voters.
Barack Obama was only the FIFTH black person to serve in the Senate. When Mississippi was a majority black state in the 1870s it elected 2 black senators before the white minority took voting rights away. Just 2 black people served in the Senate during the entire 20th Century.
Kamala Harris, now running for president, is only the SECOND black woman in American history to serve in the Senate. She was elected in 2016. Twenty fucking sixteen.
Why have racists tried so hard for so long to stop African Americans from voting? Because they understand that a vote is the most powerful weapon for justice that exists. They’re trying to disarm you. People who choose not to vote disarm themselves.