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The Fifteenth Amendment (1870)
Picture credits: Library of Congress
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The Transformative Justice Coalition and the Voting Rights Alliance, in honor of Black History Month, are reviving the daily special series devoted to sharing the legacies and stories of the sheroes, heroes, and events in the fight for Black suffrage. This series was created in 2017 and will add 9 NEW articles this year. In addition to these daily newsletters all February long, this series also incorporates daily social media posts; an interactive calendar; and, website blog posts to spread the word broadly.

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This article was authored by Caitlyn Cobb. Summary written by Barbara Arnwine. All the sources are linked throughout the article in green.

Today, February 8th, 2022, we honor the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlaws discrimination in voting rights on the basis of race, color, and previous condition of servitude; thereby advancing suffrage for African Americans (although only men could vote at that time). This was the last and most hard fought for of all the Reconstruction Congress' Constitutional Amendments to confer full citizenship upon the formerly enslaved. The intention of this amendment was to codify, permanently, the right to vote for all freed men. Immediately, the impact of this amendment proved transformative as freed men exercised the right to vote, and in coalition, elected several hundred African-Americans to office throughout the nation. 

African-American men seeking to vote were often met with obstacles, brutal opposition, and skepticism; yet, still they participated in the franchise in record numbers.

Due to the infamous 1877 Hayes-Tilden Compromise, which- among other things- removed the federal troops from the South, this period of African-American voting power lasted only from 1870-1901. Although brief, this era of voting would be instrumental in inspiring the continued fight for Black suffrage for decades to come.

The legal power of the Fifteenth Amendment would be largely dormant for many years until its rejuvenation in the modern Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th Century.
Fifteenth Amendment Fun Fact:

  • “One day after it was ratified, Thomas Mundy Peterson (1824-1904) of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, became the first black person to vote under the authority of the 15th Amendment.”

  • In 1997, Tennessee was the last state to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment. 

Recommended Reading:

  •  “The Evening Telegraph., March 31, 1870.” This is a link to a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania newspaper, published on March 31st, 1870. This newspaper’s front-page story is about the effects of the 15th Amendment on voting rights throughout Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.
Click the video below to watch as historian Yohuru Williams give a brief rundown of the history of the 15th Amendment:
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