African American Politics: A History of Struggle
In the year 2008, tens of millions of African Americans turned out in historic numbers to propel Barak Obama to the US Democratic Party nomination and, ultimately, the Presidency of the United States. The turnout in that election was the culmination of a massive upswing in Black voting which began with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
By the time of Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, numerous states across the US had taken steps to adopt laws which would severely restrict voting rights. Many of these laws were targeted at African American voters. For African American voters, this attempt to roll back voting rights was like Deja Vu, all over again.
As far back as the period between 1864 and 1870, following the American Civil War, a vigorous debate waged within the US over the question of the African American vote. Following the Civil War, one of the conditions for readmission of the defeated Southern states into the United States of America was the enfranchisement of African Americans.
The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which bestowed citizenship on African Americans, also dictated the terms for readmission of the defeated Southern states into the US. Section 2 of the 14th Amendment overturned the infamous three-fifths clause, a provision in Article 1 of the US Constitution which had limited the counting of enslaved African Americans to three-fifths of a person for the purpose of determining the number of congressional seats to allocate to the Southern states. After that provision was overturned, the counting of African Americans then added fifteen additional congressional seats to the House of Representatives. Of course, the much larger question was how would power be divided between slaves and former slave owners in the American South.
The 14th Amendment also overturned the infamous and historically appalling Dred Scott Decision of the US Supreme Court. In that decision, the US Supreme Court’s majority opinion held that even though he had lived in a northern, non-slave state, because Dred Scott was black, he was not a US citizen and therefore had no right to sue. It is written in the majority opinion that, “The framers of the Constitution believed that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” Before being overturned by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, that decision was the law of the land in America.
Because the reconstruction Acts passed after the Civil War called for Black voting rights only in the American South, there was great disparity and controversy within the US. Those Acts did not apply to the American North, where 11 out of 21 states (that is more than half) did not allow African Americans to vote al late as the year 1868 (that is, after the Civil War). Further, the Border States (states bordering the South), where a sizable chunk of the African American population resided, did not allow Blacks to vote either. Congress passed the 15th Amendment in 1869 to rectify the voting rights disparity. However, there was significant resistance to its ratification. It was then dictated by Congress to the Southern states that the condition for their readmission to the Union would be acceptance of both the 14th and 15th amendments.
Following passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments, African American political representation in the South increased dramatically. Between 1870 and 1900, twenty-two African Americans served in the US Congress. And, in 1868, Oscar Dunn, an African American, was elected Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. In the legislature of South Carolina, Blacks even outnumbered whites by 87 to 40.
However, that political power was short lived. After only a few short years of African American political representation, a vicious, violent backlash began. White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan gained prominence, and many Whites refused to accept Blacks as their equal. A case in point – In 1876, after three years of refusal and controversy, the US Senate refused to seat PBS Pinchback, an African American who had been Governor of Louisiana for a short while. Also in 1876, a mere six years after ratification of the 15th Amendment, the US Supreme Court ruled that, ‘the right of suffrage (meaning voting) is not a necessary attribute of national citizenship’. The next year, the infamous Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877 led to the revocation of presidential authority to use federal troops to guarantee fair elections in the American South. Through the Compromise, referred to by African Americans as the great Betrayal Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was awarded the White House over Democrat Samuel J. Tilden on the understanding that Hayes would remove the federal troops whose support was essential for the survival of Reconstruction era state governments in the South, and the former white slave owners, who had been defeated in the US Civil War with the significant help of African American soldiers, would return to power in the American South.
As soon as he became President, Hayes pulled federal troops out of the South, and ended the Reconstruction Era.
The resulting African American fall from political power was rapid. Southern white vigilantes terrorized African Americans. By 1890, Mississippi had convened the first of the so-called, constitutional conventions, which would sweep the South and institutionalize the racial cleansing of African Americans from the political arena. In an 1899 speech to the US House of Representatives, North Carolina congressman George White said, “our ratio of representation is poor…We have kept quiet while numerically and justly we are entitled to fifty-one members of this House; and I am the only one left. In his farewell speech, White prophetically said, ‘this, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the Negro’s temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say, phoenix-like, he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are on behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised, and bleeding, but God-fearing people, faithful, industrious, loyal people – rising people, full of potential force.’
After White’s departure it would take 72 years for African American voters in the South to elect a candidate of their choice to the US Congress. It would take another twenty-two years, two amendments to the Voting Rights Act, vigorous litigation, and federal government intervention before the opportunity to elect a congressional representative became a reality in most of the Southern states.
From the time that African Americans were first granted the right to vote up to the present, there has been consistent resistance to African American voting rights, especially in the American South. The long struggle from Post-Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement culminated in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That Act was necessary so that African Americans could realize the same rights which had been legally granted to them by the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, some 95 years earlier.
It would take further amendment of the Voting Rights Act in 1982 for African Americans in the South to elect candidates of their choice to office in significant numbers. The VRA had to be amended by Congress again in 2006, following a wave of litigation challenging the election of these new office holders. In 2014, following the election and re-election of Barak Obama, it is necessary to amend the Voting Rights Act once again because issues long fought over have still not been put to rest.
Our ultimate goal at the new website, www.blackpolitics.org. is to put in one place historical and contemporary materials about the recent and extended history of African American leaders, politics and issues in the US. By assembling a vast cross-section of content dealing with the historical reality of the African American political experience and struggle we hope to make it easy for our visitors to research and discuss this topic. We want Black history to inform the present. We also want to help expose some of the historical deceptions which have played a role in turning history upside down by concealing the true origins and history of African people in the US and their relationship to Black people the world over. The first such falsehood is that African American political history began with slavery. We link to video and written content on the site to completely expose that fallacy. We ask our visitors to look deep into history, European history and beyond, and ask some basic questions.
If Africans didn’t come to the so-called “new World” until after the so-called discoveries of Christopher Columbus and the ensuing slave trade, the why is there so much evidence to the contrary? Who carved those huge stone heads of Black people In Southern Mexico and Guatemala thousands of years ago? Is it logical that someone else would erect such huge permanent monuments to other people, especially ones that they had never seen? Why is there so much historical evidence of African people throughout Brazil, and the rest of South and Central America, including Mexico and the Caribbean, even as far North as Louisiana – before Columbus? How did the Europeans find out about the so-called, “New World”? Who were/are the Moors? Who was Pedro Nina? And how is it that he piloted one of Christopher Columbus’ ships – the one that was named after him? How did Europe get out of the Dark Ages?
If West African were indeed traveling back and forth across the Atlantic, engaging in commerce and cultural exchange before the Columbus discoveries, what are the implications for all of the stuff we have been taught in schools to the contrary? Was history deliberately distorted and turned upside down to mislead and deceive future generations? These are only a few of the questions which need to be explored. Ask them yourself, and do the research until you find the answers. Come visit our site, and keep your minds open.
African American Politics: A History of Struggle
The ancient history of African Americans is a history rich in accomplishment. Many of these accomplishments have been written out of the history books. Because of this historical injustice, we have become accustomed to beginning African American history with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. From that time until now, the history of African Americans has been a history rich with political struggle. Whether we study the early slave rebellions, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Post-Reconstruction, the Garvey Movement, the 1960s Civil Rights and Black Power movements, or the rise of Black elected officials up to, and including, the election of Barak Obama, African Americans have engaged in deliberate political action to advance their quality of life and achieve political power within the United States. In so doing, serious students of African American history have stumbled across another history – the one previously unknown to them and most African Americans. This struggle has opened the door for African Americans to reclaim their true and rightful history. But there has been resistance all along the way.