The United States of America was founded on principles which included but not limited to Individual Liberty and the idea that “All men are created Equal.” Meaning every citizen has freedom and rights. The most basic and common right of a United States citizen is the right to vote. It is one of the most basic but most important rights of American citizen, Without the right to vote citizens do not have a voice or say so in their country. Every United States citizen has the right to vote, but under certain circumstances which continue to change.
Although everyone has a right to vote, it has not always been that way and is still not completely accurate. This is so because according to the Constitution in Article I Section 4 the handling and control of elections were left up to state legislature. Due to that article and many factors including racial discrimination, many continue to gain and lose the right to vote. “Racial discrimination is an unfair treatment or bias against someone or a group of people on the basis of their race,” said Collins English Dictionary. This trend of unfair treatment can be traced throughout America’s history with a few examples including slavery, Jim crow laws and felon disenfranchisement.
Leaving control and rule of elections to state legislature led to unfair voting practices for those of color. This began with slavery. Slaves were not considered a citizen or a “whole” person even when deciding how population would determine how many would be represented in the house, the electoral college and taxes. Slaves were first considered property, so by law they were not allowed to vote because during this time you had to be a white male owning property later changing to a white male of age. Slaves became equivalent to three fifths of a white person, represented by the three fifths compromise. After the civil war ended slavery, along came the ratification of the fourteenth amendment. Southern states, stated that citizenship is granted to all persons born or naturalized in the US, including slaves. Therefore, slaves were citizens but of course still could not vote due to states having control over voting. The 15 Amendment would soon come in to “help” those of color. It stated that the right to vote can not be denied based off race. Although many would think that voting would be easy for those of color at this point it only became even more difficult leading to more racial discrimination to hold those of color from their right to vote.
After the 15th amendment was passed in 1870 other racist, discriminatory acts and laws were put in place to prevent those of color from voting. For a brief moment those of color could register to vote openly. Due to the withdrawal of Federal troops from the south, a huge component of Racial Discrimination came back into play. Soon after, the small amount of color people who were able to pass test would shrink to an even smaller amount. The Klu Klux Klan quickly rearose in the “Old Confederacy”. The Klu Klux Klan is a white supremacist group devoted to preserving white supremacy. They use hate crimes, leadership roles and scare tactics to prevent those of color from voting. The KKK would soon take over the south with winning political positions and turn most states into democratic states. For example, legislature would soon run into problems with their new laws because it affected some of the white community. In 1890, Mississippi had a convention to write a new state constitution. White officials associated with the KKK were clear on their intentions by making statements such as, ‘We came here to exclude the Negro,’ declared the convention president. So, in 1900, would come the grandfather clause, allowing anyone whose grandfather or father could vote before 1867 to skip these discriminatory tests.
Other Discriminatory laws included, literacy and property test. For example, the literacy test in Mississippi required applicants to recite and write a portion of the state’s constitution and a full essay on the responsibilities of being a citizen. Law makers knew that many people of color were not very educated and would not be able to pass the test in order to register to vote. Instead of saying this they chose to say that these tactics would ensure educated and knowledgeable voters.
Throughout the next thirty years African Americans outgrew Poll tax and Literacy test. But threats of death, unemployment, becoming homeless, being denied credit, mob violence including KKK would keep those of color away from the polls. By 1940 only about three percent of blacks were registered to vote in the south with only one percent in Mississippi, due to racial discrimination. With these numbers, people of color had no say so in their towns nor states. So once again due to racial discrimination, those of color could not vote; leaving them without a basic right.
Leaders in the black community and northerners would soon begin to fight back. But their attempts to get those of color to vote led to violence and death threats. The attempts would turn into the civil rights movement in the early 1950’s. Color people in the South demanded their rights granted to them as any other citizen would get and started voter registration drives throughout the South. For example, Medgar Evers was stopped by a white mob from voting in Mississippi. He would soon become a civil rights activist, but due to his heroic civil rights activities, he was killed at his home by a white supremacist. Because of people like Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King, forty percent of color people were registered to vote by 1964. Also, in that same year the 24th amendment was ratified, and poll taxes would soon be ruled unconstitutional.
The African American community went through many other trials and tribulations dealing with voting in the south. Including the Selma march in Selma, Alabama, which was a televised showing of how bad and horrible those of color were treated for wanting to exercise a basic right. This pushed the current president, Lyndon Johnson to pass laws to enforce African Americans right to vote. Then the voting rights act of 1965 was signed into law and ruled out any type of discrimination against those of color when trying to use their basic right to vote.
African Americans over the years and even in present day exercise their right to vote. Racial discrimination is not as bold as it was but still exist in hidden ways. For example, in the latest elections throughout the south, on election day voting stations in mostly black areas were “closed” or many people were told they could not vote due to unforeseen circumstances. Ballots were lost or left places that contained mostly black votes. For example, in Georgia many people who tried registering to vote before the deadline applications were denied or held until after the elections for unforeseen reasons. Also, in many states due to the overwhelming number of black people who have been to jail, laws were put in place to take away voting rights of felons. That too has begun to change thanks to the state of Florida voting to allow felons to vote.
Although there has been a lot of progress within the black community, it took years and a lot of struggle, blood, sweat and tears to get to the point where we are now. Racial discrimination played an overall major role in the roller-coaster ride we call the right to vote. The discrimination against those of color exist in many aspects of our world and voting rights is just the start.