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Context of '1896: Louisiana, Other Southern States Disenfranchise African-American Voters'

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The US Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment, giving African-American men, and in theory men of other minorities, the right to vote. The Amendment reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Over a century later, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will write, “In addition to the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, the Fifteenth Amendment is one of the major tools which enabled African-Americans to more fully participate in democracy.” It will be ratified by the states in 1870. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; The Constitution: Amendments 11-27, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Congress, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An excerpt from a ‘Harper’s Weekly’ cartoon from 1876 showing two white men menacing a black man attempting to cast a vote. The cartoon illustrates the effect of the ‘grandfather clause.’ An excerpt from a ‘Harper’s Weekly’ cartoon from 1876 showing two white men menacing a black man attempting to cast a vote. The cartoon illustrates the effect of the ‘grandfather clause.’ [Source: Harper's / St. John's School]The Louisiana legislature adopts a so-called “grandfather clause” designed to disenfranchise African-American voters. As a result, the percentage of registered black voters drops from 44.8 percent in 1896 to 4 percent in 1890. Louisiana’s lead is followed by similar laws being passed in Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia. Louisiana’s “grandfather clause” requires voters to register between January 1, 1897 and January 1, 1898. It imposes a literacy test. Illiterate or non-property owning voters whose fathers or grandfathers were not eligible to vote in 1867 (as per the Fifteenth Amendment—see February 26, 1869) are not allowed to register. Almost all African-Americans were slaves in 1867, and were not allowed to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union will later write, “[T]he measure effectively disfranchises all black voters who cannot read or write or who do not own more than $300 in property.” [School, 2011; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Louisiana State Legislature, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court overrules Oklahoma’s “grandfather clause” law in the case of Guinn v. United States, finding the law unconstitutional. The Oklahoma law is similar to laws passed in Louisiana and other states (see 1896) in order to ensure that African-Americans cannot legally vote regardless of the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869). Illiterate males can vote only if they can prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Since almost all African-Americans were slaves during that time, it is impossible for almost all African-Americans to prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Illiterate white men, however, can often prove their grandfathers could vote. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Based on the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869), the VRA is a potent set of statutes that permanently bars direct barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities. It bans any election practice that denies the right to vote due to race, and requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval of changes in their election laws before they can take effect. The VRA forbids literacy tests (see 1896, April 25, 1898, and June 8, 1959) and other barriers to registration that have worked to stop minority voters from exercising their rights (see 1888, June 21, 1915, and February 4, 1964). Sections 2 and 5 of the VRA work together to prohibit states from establishing voting qualifications or standards that interfere with a citizen’s right to vote on a racial basis. Section 5 requires states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department before altering any laws pertaining to voting—this includes changing electoral districts, voter qualification rules, and even changes in government structure such as making a formerly elective office appointive. If the changes can be seen as possibly “diluting” minority voting strength, they can be disallowed. States wishing to challenge the VRA restrictions have the opportunity to have their cases heard in federal court. Section 2 has similar, if less restrictive, provisions that apply nationally. Section 10 of the VRA takes direct aim at the Breedlove ruling from the Supreme Court (see December 6, 1937), which had legitimized poll taxes used to disenfranchise minority voters. That portion of the VRA finds that poll taxes “impose… unreasonable financial hardship” and “precludes persons of limited means from voting.” The VRA also forbids the use of literacy tests, good character tests, and other such tests used in the past to suppress minority voting. The law urges the attorney general to urge the Court to overrule Breedlove; minutes after Johnson signs the bill into law, he directs the attorney general “to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the poll tax.” The Court will find poll taxes unconstitutional in its Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections ruling (see March 24, 1966). The US Department of Justice and the federal courts now have the power to monitor problem jurisdictions and assist private citizens in seeking redress through the courts if their voting rights are infringed. Months later, the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of the VRA. [eNotes, 2004; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Yale Law School, 2/8/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Florida, already using controversial and error-ridden “purge lists” to remove tens of thousands of minority voters from the voting rolls (see 1998 and After), uses voting machines and voting procedures to disenfranchise eligible voters. The Florida elections system is grossly underfunded, resulting in the use of obsolete and error-prone machines (disproportionately used in counties with large minority populations), and elections officials lacking fundamental training and even information about their jobs. During most of 2000, county supervisors warn Tallahassee that Florida could expect an unprecedented number of voters on November 7, especially among the black voting community. But Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) and Division of Elections chief Clay Roberts, by their own subsequent testimony, fail to address the problem. Roberts tells Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho, “It’s not that bad.” Thusly on November 7, 2000, many polling places experience massive difficulties. An investigation by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) turns up thousands of voters who are turned away for a number of reasons, including but not limited to being on the purge lists. Some voters who registered are not listed on the voting rolls—many of whom were registered through NAACP efforts to register voters via the “motor voter” procedures (see May 20, 1993). County supervisors calling Tallahassee with questions and problems routinely find themselves unable to get through. Many precincts lack access to central voter rolls to verify questionable registrations. Some voters who are in line to vote at the 7:00 p.m. closing time are told to leave, even though the law mandates that any voter standing in line to vote can vote even if closing time occurs. Florida law also allows voters whose status is questionable to complete affidavit votes that will be counted later after their eligibility is confirmed, but many election workers know nothing of these procedures, and thusly many voters who are eligible to vote via affidavit are not given that opportunity. Many disabled voters find no procedures in place to allow them access to voting machines. Many precincts lack procedures to assist Spanish-speaking voters, including failing to provide bilingual ballots or bilingual poll workers. (The Voting Rights Act of 1965—see August 6, 1965—mandates that such provisions be made at every polling place without exception.) The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund later concludes that several thousand Hispanic voters are disenfranchised because of these failures. Black voters in Leon County complain that the Florida Highway Patrol set up a roadblock that denied them access to their polling place (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000); Highway Patrol authorities later admit the existence of the roadblock, but say that it was a routine vehicle inspection checkpoint.
Punch Card Voting - Florida generally uses two voting systems—the more sophisticated computer “optiscan” system, which features ballots where choices are made by “bubbling in” an oval with a pencil and then feeding into a scanner, and the obsolete “punch card” system, which uses “punch cards” where choices are made by a voter “punching” a hole in a card with a stylus and then feeding the card into a scanner. Counties with large African-American populations are disproportionate in having to use the obsolete punch card machines. In four of these counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Duval—over 100,000 votes are discarded due to problems with punching the holes correctly (see November 9, 2000). This total is more than half the discards in the entire state. Of the 19 precincts in the state with the highest rate of discard, 18 are majority-black. Seventy percent of black Floridian voters are forced to use the punch card machines, a percentage far higher than that of other ethnic groups. The NAACP later sues to force Florida to discard punch card machines entirely. The Florida government’s response to the punch-card disenfranchisement can perhaps be best summed up by a statement made by Republican House Speaker Tom Feeney, who responds to a question about the infamous “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County (see November 9, 2000) by saying: “Voter confusion is not a reason for whining or crying or having a revote. It may be a reason to require literacy tests.” Literacy tests, a legacy of the Jim Crow era of massive voter discrimination, are unconstitutional (see 1896 and June 8, 1959). [Tapper, 3/2001; Nation, 4/24/2001]
Subsequent Investigation - A later investigation by the progressive news magazine The Nation will document widespread voter disenfranchisement efforts in Florida (see April 24, 2001).

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), County of Madison (Florida), County of Leon (Florida), County of Duval (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Clay Roberts, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Florida Highway Patrol, Ion Sancho, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Tom Feeney, Linda Howell, Katherine Harris, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

Former Governor Sarah Palin speaks at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.Former Governor Sarah Palin speaks at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville. [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer]Tea Party Nation (TPN), one of the national “umbrella” organizations that coordinate and promote local tea party events and groups (see August 24, 2010), holds a two-day Tea Party Convention in Nashvillle, Tennessee. Around 600 people attend, with another 500 or so attending only the speech given by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who ran for vice president in 2008. “America is ready for another revolution,” she tells the crowd. In a statement addressed at President Obama, she says the tea party movement is “about the people, and it’s bigger than any one king or queen of a tea party, and it’s a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter.” A Harvard Crimson report describes TPN as an “eclectic mix of Ron Paul libertarians” and “George W. Bush social conservatives” who are “predominantly white and above age 50” and have a common “dislike of President Obama, the debt, future tax increases, and the bank bailout.” Some critics accuse TPN of profiteering from the convention; tickets cost $549 ($349 to just hear Palin’s speech), and Palin receives a $100,000 speaker’s fee, which she claims “will go right back to the cause.” Some prominent lawmakers, including Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), canceled their planned appearances at the event, saying that their appearance at such an event would conflict with House rules. [National Tea Party Convention, 2/2010; The Week, 2/4/2010; Beth Rowen, 2/9/2010]
Incendiary Rhetoric Opens Event - Speakers include Fox News contributor Angela McGlowan, WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah, and Rick Scarborough, an author who writes of the impending tyranny of “activist” judges. Some of the topics discussed during the convention include: “Correlations between the current Administration and Marxist Dictators of Latin America”; “5 Easy Fixes to the High Cost of Mass Immigration”; “Defeating Liberalism via the Primary Process”; and “Why Christians Must Engage.” The first speaker is former Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who insults minority citizens and rails against the Obama administration. Tancredo says “illiterate” minority voters are responsible for putting Obama, “a committed socialist,” into office, and he goes on to say that perhaps literacy tests (see 1896 and June 8, 1959) and poll taxes (see February 4, 1964) should be reintroduced to ensure that candidates such as Obama never be elected again (see August 6, 1965). Tancredo says that the voters who put Obama into the White House “could not even spell the word ‘vote,’ or say it in English.” Tancredo goes on to say: “The president and his left-wing allies in Congress are going to look at every opportunity to destroy the Constitution before we have a chance to save it. So put your running shoes on. Because I’ll tell you, I’ve heard we need a revolution. My friends, we already had it. We lost. I mean, what happened to us in that last election was a revolution.… This is our country. Let’s take it back.” Hilary Shelton of the NAACP later calls Tancredo’s remarks “the politics of denigration.” [National Tea Party Convention, 2/2010; The Week, 2/4/2010; Chattahbox, 2/5/2010]
Rival Tea Parties Boycott Event - A number of rival tea party organizations and leaders asked tea party members to boycott the convention. One of those, organizer Shane Brooks, recently left TPN after deciding that the organization was too cozy with the national Republican Party. In a YouTube video, Brooks asked tea partiers to “boycott the National Tea Party Convention” and said: “[W]e will not allow Tea Party Nation or any group to achieve national leadership of this historic grassroots revolution by the people!… We must not allow the tea parties and other patriotic grassroots movement to be hijacked by the GOP.” Prominent Seattle tea party leader Keli Carender (see February 16-17, 2009) also decided not to attend after being listed as a convention speaker, telling an NPR reporter that she did not want the tea party movement to become too centralized. Mark Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots said that the $549 convention attendance fee was far too high: “Most people in our movement can’t afford anything like that. So it’s really not aimed at the average grassroots person.” TPN founder Judson Phillips told a reporter that the high fees would allow TPN to make a profit and “funnel money back into conservative causes” through a 527 group it plans to set up. TPN leaders refused to discuss Palin’s speaking fee. A local tea party member said skeptically, “The tea party movement is a grass-roots movement; it’s not a business.” Another accused Phillips of being “someone who is trying to make a grab.” Others echo Brooks’s concerns that Phillips and TPN are attempting to “co-opt” the movement and become power brokers within the GOP. The Tea Party Express, an organization run by a small group of well-financed Republican consultants, is part of the convention, dismaying some more independent tea party leaders. One activist wrote in an online comment: “The tea party movement is about to be hijacked. TeaPartyNation.com organizers are hard lined GOP who use the proverbial veil of ‘conservatism’ to attract supporters.” RedState blogger Erick Erickson called the convention “scammy.” [TPM Muckraker, 1/11/2010; TPM Muckraker, 1/18/2010; Publicola, 2/3/2010]

Entity Tags: Rick Scarborough, Michele Bachmann, Shane Brooks, Sarah Palin, Marsha Blackburn, Tea Party Express, Tom Tancredo, Tea Party Nation, Mark Meckler, Republican Party, Judson Phillips, Angela McGlowan, Barack Obama, Keli Carender, Joseph Farah, Hilary Shelton, Erick Erickson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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