Difficulties Faced By Different Populations Seeking Voting Rights

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Difficulties faced by different populations seeking voting rights


In 1999 the U.S. Congress directed the National Park Service to conduct a multi-state study of civil right sites to determine the national significance of the sites and the appropriateness of including them in the National Park System. To determine how best to proceed, the National Park Service partnered with the Organization of American Historians to develop an overview of civil rights history entitled, Civil Rights in America: A Framework for Identifying Significant Sites (2002, rev. 2008).

The framework concluded that while a number of civil right sites had been designated as National Historic Landmarks, other sites needed to be identified and evaluated. Taking this into account, the framework recommended that a National Historic Landmarks theme study be prepared to identify sites that may be nationally significant, and that the study be based on provisions of the 1960s civil rights acts. These include the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (covering voting rights, equal employment, public accommodations, and school desegregation enforcement), the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This specific portion of the study focuses on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


The right to vote has held a central place in the black freedom struggle. With abolition of slavery, African Americans sought the ballot as a means to claim their first-class citizenship. When emancipated blacks pursued equality, they demanded the franchise on the same basis as that exercised by whites. Indeed, when Abraham Lincoln delivered his historic Gettysburg Address in 1863, universal white manhood suffrage existed in the North and the South. Democratic reforms over the previous half-century had whittled down property qualifications that excluded working class and poor white Americans from voting (Doug, pp. 90).

Once slaves obtained freedom with passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, they intended to participate actively in the political process and help advance their interests. Before emancipation, blacks residing in five New England states could vote. Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, which contained only 6 percent of the northern black population, had extended the right to vote to blacks. In New York, blacks owning $250 in freehold property could also cast a ballot; however, the same property qualification did not apply to whites. In the South, where the overwhelming number of African Americans labored as slaves, the right to vote was limited to whites.


Even before the end of the Civil War, African Americans organized to campaign for the right to vote. In 1864, free blacks gathered in Syracuse, New York, to form the National Equal Rights League (NERL). One of those in attendance was Abraham Galloway, a fugitive slave, abolitionist, and Union spy. He and a delegation of blacks met with President Lincoln to endorse the suffrage for all African Americans. The president did not commit himself and was assassinated in April 1865 before the issue came to a resolution. After the war, Galloway moved to North Carolina and started chapters of the NERL to voice the political concerns of ...