African American Voting Rights and Political Empowerment

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Since the establishment of the slave trade in the 1600s african-americans have had to struggle against the chains of slavery racial tyranny segregation discrimination and legal disenfranchisement to achieve even the slightest representation in the US government in the formative years of the Republic there was much controversy over who should be allowed to vote in the South white constituents insisted that only white males be allowed to vote yet also demanded that slaves should be counted when determining how many members of Congress each state is entitled to at this time the majority of the states in the Union declared that only white land owning males could vote less than five percent of the United States population met those qualifications and so less than five percent of the population voted in the presidential election of 1800 in the election of 1828 there were some free black men eligible to vote but the property requirements had been raised for black voters while the same requirements for whites were lowered out of 12,500 free black men in New York City only sixty were eligible to vote in the election of 1826 it is unknown how many of these men actually voted and out of that number how many of those votes were counted the abolitionist movement gained substantial ground during the mid 19th century the abolitionist party consisted of thousands of politicians academics businessmen and others who devoted their lives to fighting the institution of slavery major figures of this movement were William Lloyd Garrison Harriet Tubman Maria Stuart and most famously Frederick Douglass perhaps the most famous figure of the abolitionist movement Frederick Douglass was born a slave to an african-american woman and an unnamed white man as a young man he experienced the brutality of slavery firsthand before escaping to the north there Douglas became a journalist and started publishing his four-page weekly abolitionist magazine called North Star out of Rochester New York he was the first african-american man to run for president as a member of the Liberty Party in the election of 1848 he ran again as a vice presidential candidate for the political abolitionist party in 1856 Frederick Douglass was renowned in the United States and elsewhere for his dazzling skills as a public speaker political writer and retirin he was the most famous african-american living at the United States at the time and was recognized overseas in some European trees he personally met with President Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson to discuss the treatment of black soldiers and black suffrage while being an outspoken abolitionists and advocate of african-american suffrage Douglas was also an advocate of women's suffrage believing in the equal rights of all races classes nationalities and genders as the Civil War drew to a close the Emancipation Proclamation in the 13th amendment were passed and ended slavery in the southern states contrary to popular myth the enslavement of african-americans was not abolished entirely there was still around 1 million slaves in some border states that remained a part of the Union such as New Jersey in Maryland these states which were allowed to keep their slaves for fear they would turn over to the Confederacy would not abolish their slave practices until later the question of who got to vote was still left to individual states some northern states extended voting rights to blacks but most states in the Union did not the 14th amendment is passed in 1868 requiring all states of the to consider african-americans as citizens in 1870 the 15th amendment extends voting rights two black males but only in theory in reality there is resistance the fifteenth amendments throughout the country but especially in southern states before Civil War began African Americans that are only been able to vote in a few northern states and they were virtually non holding office the months following the Union victory in April 1865 saw extensive mobilization within the black community as they organized meetings parades and petitions calling for legal and political rights including the right to vote during the first two years of reconstruction freed slaves organized equal rights leagues throughout the south holding state and local conventions to protest discriminatory treatment demanding suffrage and equality before the law the federal government also sets up the Freedmen's Bureau an organization designed to facilitate the transition from slavery to freedom in the South during the radical reconstruction period hundreds of thousands of black men risked their lives and property to vote and many are elected to office for a time in the late 1860's more like an American men are registered to vote in the states of the former Confederacy than whites the Ku Klux Klan in other racist terrorist organizations carried out many attacks and lynchings against blacks and the compromise of 1877 Republicans agreed to remove the northern military presence in the south which had up to that point provided protection to blacks the compromise of 1877 effectively ends reconstruction black representatives are forcefully expelled from office by angry mobs in the Ku Klux Klan black males who try to vote are fired from their jobs evicted from their homes beaten and brutally lynched those who manage to vote face legal disenfranchisement in the form of literacy tests poll taxes and grandfather clauses a literacy tests required the voter to pass a reading comprehension test in order to gain the right to vote these tests were virtually impossible for black men at that time to pass due to the high rates of literacy among african-americans caused by discriminatory exclusion from education the tests were also extremely biased against black voters black voters would be given obscure passages of legalese from government documents while Weiss would receive simple tests with elementary sentences poll taxes were de facto way of reinstating the property requirement the tax to be paid at the place of voting was always high and would have to be paid in cash thus limiting those who could pay tax to the affluent white males grandfather clauses stated that a person is only eligible to vote if their grandfather was eligible to vote a requirement that african-americans at that time could not possibly meet following the failure reconstruction was the introduction of laws mandating the separation of races which would come to be known as the Jim Crow laws the greater civil rights movement began in the late 19th century as african-americans began organizing legal challenges to the Jim Crow system organizations like the n-double-a-cp the National Association for the Advancement of Colored persons and Marcus Garvey's uniyah the United Negro Improvement Association came into being as agencies through which blacks could mobilize and incite changes to the segregationist system while Supreme Court decisions such as gills versus Harris and Leslie vs. Ferguson registered changes to Jim Crow other later causes like Gwen versus United States which struck down grandfather clauses and Smith versus all right which banned the practice of state-sanctioned all-white primaries in the Democratic South made significant gains for the african-american community in 1954 Brown versus Board of Education overturned Leslie vs. Ferguson a case that upheld the constitutionality of segregation Brown versus Board of Education declared the educational segregation unconstitutional and was a landmark in the later civil rights period the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s was a primarily nonviolent struggle against Jim Crow african-americans organized mass protests that included marches boycotts of segregated facilities such as bus lines and restaurants incidents where protesters would go to a segregated and all white establishment and sit in silent protest until they were removed by the authorities this period of the civil rights movement was divided into two audiological camps the nonviolent mainstream which pursued at schools through direct action and civil disobedience in the Black Power movement which was rooted in black nationalism the nonviolent camp of civil rights protesters was led by perhaps the most well-known and respected black man of the 20th century dr. Martin Luther King jr. whose I have a dream speech and lettered letter from a Birmingham jail laid out his vision of cooperation between the races as well as his inspired method of nonviolent protest against injustice one of the leaders of the Black Power movement was equally well-known Malcolm X who viewed dr. King's methods of nine of non-violence in civil disobedience as a betrayal to the black community he called king of religious Uncle Tom for advocating peace between the two races the two charismatic men made great contributions to the civil rights movement before they were both tragically assassinated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed banning discrimination based on race gender or national origin and employment practices in public accommodations the next year after a 57 day filibuster the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed this legislation restored protective voting rights and outlawed certain voting requirements such as literacy tests in poll taxes it also allows the federal government to take over registration for voters in areas where the local government had consistently denied voting rights to non-whites the post-civil rights era saw a significant rise in the number of african-americans participating in the political process by the end of 1965 over 200,000 new black voters had registered in the south in the following years african-american registration in Alabama grew tenfold from 50,000 in 1962 500,000 in 1990 also by 1990 the number of black legislators in the south rises from 2 to 160 an increase of eight thousand percent the post-civil rights era also saw many new first for african-americans in politics in 1972 shirley Chisholm who was the first black woman elected to Congress launched a campaign for the presidency of the United States becoming the first african-american to run a nationwide campaign for the presidency in 1989 douglas Wilder is elected as the first african-american governor in US history Ron Brown is elected to the Democratic National Committee in 1989 and during that year Colin Powell becomes the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff african-american culture also began to greatly influence popular culture in the United States as the so-called blaxploitation films of the early 70s revitalized them American film industry in the dawn of hip-hop in the late 1970s and Beyond led to black music becoming the dominant form of music on the airwaves despite these substantial gains in black voting rights and political empowerment the african-american community still faces a litany of serious social issues to this day the practice of discriminatory voting laws was not done away with the Voting Rights act current and proposed voter ID laws restrict voting to the poor who would otherwise have no need for a license and racial gerrymandering allows legislators to redraw district lines dividing the black constituency and effectively rendering the african-american vote irrelevant there are also organized voter purges in which voters are disproportionately removed from the records on various pretexts in the months before the presidential election of 2000 the republican governor of florida Jeb Bush hires a private company associated with the Republican Party to purge the Florida voting rolls of so-called ineligible voters along with voters who really are ineligible tens of thousands of legally registered african-american voters are illegally stripped from the roles resulting in a completely different outcome to the 2000 election than if these black voters were allowed to vote recently a key section of the Voting Rights Act has come under scrutiny for allegedly being unconstitutional this section states that certain southern states must report to the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws even as african-americans face these deep racial struggles the election of Barack Obama is the first black president of the United States stands as a crowning achievement in the history of african-american political empowerment providing an idea of how far race relations have come in this country since the civil rights era but at the same time showing us how far we still have to go the economic social and political status of contemporary African Americans is deeply troubled and there is much work to be done in both black and white communities to further the progress of equal voter representation and social equality .

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