Fifteenth Amendment Grants Suffrage to African Americans

Fifteenth Amendment Gants Suffrage to African Americans

Amendment XV


The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The Fifteenth Amendment granted voting rights to African American men (since at that time women were not allowed to vote in state or federal elections), providing the most important key to participation in the American democratic process to millions of formerly enslaved, and politically excluded, people. It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.

News of the Fifteenth Amendment's passage was greeted with jubilation in the African American communities. There were major parades in New York and Baltimore to mark the occasion, as well as commemorative events in subsequent years to mark the anniversary. The expansion of the franchise also had the immediate effect of increasing the number of African American men serving in public office. It is estimated that between the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment and the end of Congressional Reconstruction in 1877, about two thousand African Americans served in local and state government offices, including state legislatures, and as members of Congress.

However, through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans despite the promise of the Fifteenth Amendment. It took almost a century for the promise to the Fifteenth Amendment to be realized. The ratification of the Twenty-fourth Amendment in 1964 outlawing the poll tax in federal elections, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 (not to mention the earlier passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919 giving women the right to vote) were meaningful steps in restoring to America's Black citizens the protections necessary to secure their right to vote, and to participate effectively in America's democratic process.