The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870. The last of the “Reconstruction Amendments,” the Fifteenth Amendment banned the denial or abridgement of suffrage on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. It effectively gave African-American men the right to vote.
The immediate effects of the Fifteenth Amendment were dramatic. Throughout the South, thousands of African-Americans registered to vote. The majority in many areas, they gained substantial political power and soon thereafter began serving as local, state, and federal representatives.
Sadly, this right of suffrage would not remain protected. As federal troops pulled out of the southern U.S. in the late 1870s, many former Confederates found ways to prevent black men from voting. African-Americans faced poll taxes, literacy tests, and outright voter intimidation from white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
The Fifteenth Amendment, though a landmark in our constitutional history, wouldn’t be enforced again in the South for years to come when additional laws were passed during the civil rights movement.
Below is a collection of resources recognizing this crucial piece of American law. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:
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.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Selected online resources on the Fifteenth Amendment:
The National Constitution Center offers a collection of introductory essays by top liberal and conservative legal scholars that give overviews of Fifteenth Amendment as agreed upon by both authors, as well as separate brief statements of these scholars’ disagreements about the law’s interpretation.
The Library of Congress has amassed a variety of resources on the Fifteenth Amendment, including primary documents from the time of ratification and related exhibitions and websites.
Harper’s Weekly was one of the most widely read journals during the Civil War era. HarpWeek, an organization that has indexed all of Harper’s Weekly, has a webpage devoted to the journal’s coverage of the Fifteenth Amendment. The primary source materials on the site include editorials, stories, illustrations, cartoons, as well as documents from key political and military figures of the time. Additionally, HarpWeek has added an annotated timeline, biographical sketches, and a glossary of terms.
The Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood: The Symbolic Generation of Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1887
Though it was short-lived, the 1870s and 1880s marked a time of southern African-American representation in Congress. Visit the House of Representatives website to read about the first black congressman, Senator Hiram Revels, and the other African-American members of the 41st-45th Congresses.
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