Homepage Sidebar

This program is supported by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.


Disenfranchisement of African American Voters in the Reconstructed South

Disenfranchisement of African American Voters in the Reconstructed South

Beginning in 1890, 25 years after the end of the Civil War, former Confederate states enacted amendments to their constitutions to deny the right of the African Americans to vote. The means of the disenfranchisement were indirect, so that denying voting privileges based on race would not violate the Fifteenth Amendment.

The Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1890 passed an amendment that imposed a poll tax of $2; excluded voters convicted of bribery, burglary, theft, arson, perjury, murder, or bigamy; and also barred all who could not read any section of the state constitution, understand it when read, or give a reasonable interpretation of it.

In 1895, South Carolina followed with similar restrictions, including a requirement that a voter own property worth at least three hundred dollars. In addition, South Carolina required that special ballots and boxes be placed in every polling place for each office on the ballot, and that voters must put their ballots in the correct boxes in order for their votes to be counted.

To protect poor white voters, Louisiana introduced the innovation of the "grandfather clause." In 1889 the Louisiana constitution was amended to provide that all persons would have to meet educational and property requirements unless their fathers or grandfathers were qualified to vote on January 1, 1867. Of course, no African Americans met that requirement.

By 1910, African Americans had been disenfranchised through constitutional amendments in the following states: North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, and Oklahoma.