Following the Civil War, Radical Republicans in Congress introduced a series of laws and constitutional amendments to try to secure civil and political rights for black people. This wing of the Republican Party was called “radical” because of its strong stance on these and other issues. The right that provoked the greatest controversy, especially in the North, concerned black male suffrage: the right of the black man to vote.
In 1867, Congress passed a law requiring the former Confederate states to include black male suffrage in their new state constitutions. Ironically, even though African American men began voting in the South after 1867, the majority of Northern states continued to deny them this basic right.
In the North, the Republican’s once-huge voter majority over the Democratic Party was declining. Radical Republican leaders feared that they might lose control of Congress to the Democrats.
One solution to this problem called for including the black man’s vote in all Northern states. Republicans assumed the new black voters would vote Republican just as their brothers were doing in the South. By increasing its voters in the North and South, the Republican Party could then maintain its stronghold in Congress.
The Republicans, however, faced an incredible dilemma. The idea of blacks voting was not popular in the North. In fact, several Northern states had recently voted against black male suffrage.
In May 1868, the Republicans held their presidential nominating convention in Chicago and chose Ulysses S. Grant as their candidate. The Republicans agreed that African-American male suffrage continued to be a requirement for the Southern states, but decided that the Northern states should settle this issue for themselves.
Grant was victorious in the election of 1868, but this popular general won by a surprisingly slim margin. It was clear to Republican leaders that if they were to remain in power, their party needed the votes of black men in the North.
The 15th Amendment
When the new year began in 1869, the Republicans were ready to introduce a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the black man’s right to vote. For two months, Congress considered the proposed amendment. Several versions of the amendment were submitted, debated, rejected and then reconsidered in both the House and Senate.
Finally, at the end of February 1869, Congress approved a compromise amendment that did not even specifically mention the black man:
Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States 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.
Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Once approved by the required two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, the 15th Amendment had to be ratified by 28, or three-fourths, of the states. Due to the reconstruction laws, black male suffrage already existed in 11 Southern states. Since almost all of these states were controlled by Republican reconstruction governments, they could be counted on to ratify the 15th Amendment. Supporters of the 15th Amendment needed only 17 of the remaining 26 Northern and Western states in order to succeed. At this time, just nine of these states allowed the black man to vote. The struggle for and against ratification hung on what blacks and other political interests would do.
Only days after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox in April, 1865, black abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In his speech, Douglass explained why the black man wanted the right to vote “in every state of the Union”:
It is said that we are ignorant; admit it. But if we know enough to be hung, we know enough to vote. If the Negro knows enough to pay taxes to support government, he knows enough to vote; taxation and representation should go together. If he knows enough to shoulder a musket and fight for the flag for the government, he knows enough to vote ….What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.
While Congress debated the 15th Amendment early in 1869, 150 black men from 17 states assembled for a convention in Washington, D.C. This was the first national meeting of black Americans in the history of the United States. Frederick Douglass was elected president of the convention.
The delegates praised the Republicans in Congress for passing the reconstruction laws and congratulated General Grant on his election to the White House. They also pledged their continued support of the Republican Party.
Those attending the convention also spent time meeting with members of Congress, encouraging them to pass a strong amendment guaranteeing black male suffrage nationwide. When the meeting adjourned, the delegates were confident that a new era of democracy for the black man was about to begin.
The Democrats realized they were fighting for political survival. They feared ratification of the 15th Amendment would automatically create some 170,000 loyal black Republican voters in the North and West.
In debates over the amendment, Democrats argued against the ratification by claiming that the 15th Amendment restricted the states’ rights to run their own elections. The Democrats also charged the Republicans with breaking their promise of allowing the states, outside the South, to decide for themselves whether to grant black male suffrage. Democrat leaders cited the low level of literacy in the black population and they predicted black voters would be easily swayed by false promises and outright bribery.
Victory, Then Tragedy
Despite Democratic opposition, the Republicans steadily won ratification victories throughout 1869. Ironically, it was a Southern state, Georgia that clinched the ratification of the 15th Amendment on February 2, 1870.
On March 30, President Grant officially proclaimed the 15th Amendment as part of the Constitution. Washington and many other American cities celebrated. More than 10,000 blacks paraded through Baltimore. In a speech on May 5, 1870, Frederick Douglass rejoiced. “What a country — fortunate in its institutions, in its 15th Amendment, in its future.”
The jubilation over victory did not last long. While Republicans acquired loyal black voters in the North, the South was an entirely different matter. The Ku Klux Klan and other violent racist groups intimidated black men who tried to vote, or who had voted, by burning their homes, churches and schools, even by resorting to murder.
When the election for president in 1876 ended with a dispute over electoral votes, the Republicans made a deal with the Southern Democrats. First, the Southerners agreed to support Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes for president. In turn, the Republicans promised to withdraw troops from the South and abandon federal enforcement of black’s rights, including the right to vote.
Within a few years, the Southern state governments required blacks to pay voting taxes, pass literacy tests and endure many other unfair restrictions on their right to vote. In Mississippi, 67 percent of the black adult men were registered to vote in 1867; by 1892 only 4 percent were registered. The political deal to secure Hayes as president rendered the 15th Amendment meaningless. Another 75 years passed before black voting rights were again enforced in the South.
For Discussion and Writing
For Further Reading
Douglass, Frederick. Frederick Douglass; selections from his writings, edited, with an introduction, by Philip S. Foner. New York International Press, 1964.
Gillette, William. The Right to Vote: Politics and Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1965.
A C T I V I T Y
Voting Rights Convention
In this activity, you will have a chance to re create history by going back to the year 1868 to participate in a voting rights convention. You will be assigned to a group that had a particular viewpoint on voting rights in 1868. Your group and four others at the convention will write a voting rights amendment to recommend to Congress. In this way, your class will have the opportunity to improve upon the original 15th Amendment that was passed by Congress early in 1869. For the purposes of this activity, it does not matter what your own sex or race is when you are assigned to one of the convention groups listed below.
Voting Rights Convention Groups: Republicans, Blacks, Abolitionists, Woman Suffragists, Democrats
just another ongoing rant
So, the heat is turnt up all over the country and this is about the time when some folks start to do stuff to themselves… right? in what seems to be a great vehicle for both comedy and exposure of an awful practice that non-white men and women do is back in the news ~~ skin whitening. What made me sad among the obvious is how comical it is but, Comedian and risk-taker, Nick Cannon created a new character named, “Connor Smallnut.” I have to admit seeing him in WhiteFace was concerning as I heard myself gasp! Why? We don’t like folks in “blackface,” felt this cannot be good, but it actually exposes what seems to be a growing practice in the US … skin whitening, specifically by non-whites.
Here we are in 2022 people, and those pictures above are from 2/11/2018! I saw a picture of Sammy Sosa in a cowboy outfit …no problem but looking at the photo apparently his skin is still being bleached and though I am no expert it doesn’t look like the skin is holding up …
My problem years ago as stated, again and again, is when the industry says lighter brighter whiter is better and gets you more work!
In October of 2013, disturbing news regarding skin whitening popped up and now, I find myself having to update my post from 5/28. I get a lot of digital news and while going through it, out pops an article … not the first, this was an attempt to voice a personal experience, knowledge of Skin Whitening products, how widespread it is, and who may be using it to improve their careers. I admit… I wondered what Century are we in and will common sense prevail. I welcome all those willing to shine a light on this terrible practice and maybe a jab or two at those promoting this awful practice. However, I did find that folks continue to pull MJ into the skin whitening practice and I would like to say and clear up something ~~ MJ did have vitiligo … the end.
In 2009, reports were that Asians spent an estimated $18 billion a year to appear pale. Today, this Billion dollar business is … in my opinion taking advantage of women of all races, their personal insecurities in an industry that has created among other things bobbleheads, eating disorders, height/weight anxiety, liquid diets, long hair syndrome and many more creative ways that make folks unsure, doubtful, hesitant, self-conscious, making them reactive not proactive. Apparently, otherwise reasonably smart folks believe lighter brighter and whiter is more likely to increase your status as well. I will say it again, it is sad and very disturbing
I have to ask why after reading that in the year 2013 well-known entertainers are using Skin Whitening products to cross over for more acceptance or work. It would be easy to say … FYI, you’re still who you were before bleaching your skin but the practice begs the question … are you getting more work, more hits on your site and more folks are hitting on you … what?
No matter how light you go your personality is only as good as your authenticity …
So, this speech given by Lupita Nyong’o was at the Essence Magazine 7th Annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon in Beverly Hills, California, USA, she was honoured with the Breakthrough Performance Award. It was 2014
I had to read and re-read the speech below because she addressed my own call for People of Colour to STOP the practice of skin whitening. This practice is far from new, it has unfortunately become a billion dollar snake that needs its head cut off, a severe reprimand of those who push white is right, begin to provide services that help those who hate themselves and the skin they live in. The speech is beyond illuminating lest we say eloquent and she addressed a letter, in which she talked about a fan who wrote to her about hating her dark skin so much she had bought the controversial skin lightening cream by Dencia called Whitenicious …Lupita spoke about Dencia’s skin bleaching cream, her own issues with hating her dark skin as a teenager & more … below
I wrote down this speech, I had no time to practice so this will be the practicing session.
Thank you Alfre, for such an amazing, amazing introduction and celebration of my work. And thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of such an extraordinary community.
I am surrounded by people who have inspired me, women in particular whose presence on screen made me feel a little more seen and heard and understood. That it is ESSENCE that holds this event celebrating our professional gains of the year is significant, a beauty magazine that recognizes the beauty that we not just possess but also produce.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, Black beauty, dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
My heart bled a little when I read those words, I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.
I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before. I tried to negotiate with God, I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted, I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.
And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then…Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny.
Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty. But around me the preference for my skin prevailed, to the courters that I thought mattered I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.
And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.
And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.
There is no shame in Black beauty.
Lupita’s speech is a letter filled with humor , love and a lot of wisdom for little girls of colour from 1 – 98 who need to be taught self-love while the entertainment business needs to accept that POC come in all colours shapes sizes, speak differently and some of us don’t sing or dance, but plenty of us have great talent that should be accepted without having to make drastic changes to our features like skin whitening to get a part or a job …crossover
February is African American History Month
The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.
Art in the Kinsey Collection includes this 1990 woodcut ‘The Faces of My People’ by artist Margaret Burroughs