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Black Voting Rights - Its Partisan History

Updated on September 2, 2014

The civil rights laws passed after the Civil War were later repealed. In 1892, the Democrats regained the majority in both Houses of the U.S. Congress and the presidency, after their loss to the Lincoln presidency. Under President Grover Cleveland, they then repealed all the civil rights laws; the clan laws, the anti-segregations laws, etc. They repealed everything legislated post Civil War by the previous Republican majority government. It would be another 89 years before such laws would be reenacted again!

With all these federal laws now off the books, the southern states then start enacting pole taxes, property taxes, grandfather clauses, etc. They find eleven different legal ways to keep blacks from voting in the south.

Alabama legislature 1872

Members of the Alabama Reconstruction Legislature on the steps of the Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama
Members of the Alabama Reconstruction Legislature on the steps of the Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama | Source

Blacks in Alabama legislature of 1872

This is a photograph of the 1872 Alabama legislature when the Republicans were in power in that state. We see both white and black representatives, but changes started taking place. One thing printed underneath the published photo was, “If you believe in White Supremacy, vote the straight Democratic ticket on November 6th.”

It was not until 1944 that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Democrat policy that had said blacks could not be elected to office as a Democrat.

Laws against blacks

Laws against the black vote

An example of the changes made in Alabama were required literacy tests that at first glance makes sense. People need to read to be able to vote. These literacy tests, though, were over twenty pages long and included things like, “What rights do you have if you are indicted by a grand jury that are different if indicted by a regular jury?”

Not many literate people would know the answer to that, but tests like these were given to the African Americans in the south! Of course, none could pass it so none of them could vote.

There were also what was called "Hide and Seek" polling places; Democrats voted over on one side of town and Republicans on the other. What would happen is throughout the day the location of the Republican ballots would be moved from one place to another, making it difficult for Republicans to find their voting location.

Do you know?

Which party was most in favor of the Civil Rights of 1964 and 1965?

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Civil rights legislated ... again

The Democratic Party monopolized the south well into the 1960s. The first African American southern Democrats elected to the U.S. Congress were in 1972; Barbara Jordon (TX) and Andrew Young (GA). How did Democrats from the south finally get elected?

The Supreme Court had just ruled that the two state Democratic legislatures of TX and GA must redraw the lines so that blacks could be elected. Without the Supreme Court ruling, the gerrymandered district lines would still have kept them from being elected.

As a result of the Birmingham, AL riots, President John F. Kennedy wanted to do the civil rights act and the voting rights act. President Eisenhower's attempt had been stopped by the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, a Democrat. So JFK goes to the Republicans and asks them to do it, and then JFK is assassinated. The next president, Lyndon Johnson, picks it up and it goes to Congress for a vote. It just required a simple majority vote to pass and two thirds of both Houses were Democrat. According to the records of Congress, however, the Democrats did not even come close to having a majority of their party in favor.

How did it pass? Voting for it were 83% of the Republicans; only 62% of the Democrats voted for the two acts. Without the Republicans, the 1964 and 1965 civil rights acts would not have passed.

Neither political party is blameless

Still, it is a very partisan history and one that we do not hear much about, though it is all very well documented. Neither political party is completely blameless in all its actions in how they have historically treated African Americans, nor have the party leaders always been good or bad.

Representative Robert Brown Elliot, as a strong black Republican leader in 1874 said, he was a slave to principles and not a political party. He embraced the democratic ideals for a republic, but in its true significance found in the forms of the Declaration of Independence and the injunctions of Christianity.

My Bondage and My Freedom (Penguin Classics)
My Bondage and My Freedom (Penguin Classics)
Frederick Douglass is one of the most outstanding Americans who ever lived-- the foremost spokesman for American blacks, both freed and slave in his analysis of slavery as a condition.


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    • profile image


      10 years ago

      A great hub Ms. Dee.

      I found it very interesting and informative.

      Here in Canada women were not allowed to vote until the 1920's and it wasn't until the 1960's that all women could vote.

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 

      10 years ago from Guwahati, India

      A nice well described historical article that enlighten the people around the world how the difference between the black and the white were diminished in America gradually. I wish you to share my sorrow written in my article “Sharing of Grief with Hub-Family” along with the glimpse of Indian political history.

    • Ms Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Deidre Shelden 

      10 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks so much, Syvia's Thoughts! What you describe is what I see, too. Power corrupts those who lack integrity and strong Judeo-Christian values. This is what I think history teaches us.

    • Sylvia's Thoughts profile image

      Sylvia Van Peebles 

      10 years ago from Southern California

      Wow Ms Dee! A truth teller... Not too many people know their history. The Republicans were historically the ones that supported civil rights. The Democrats were the racists. Then in the 1960's the Democrats high-jacked the black population and brainwashed them into thinking the Dems were their friends. And you can't seem to change that thinking. Now, everyone's so corrupt, you can't believe either side.

      If truth be told, race relations are not that much better than in the 60's. Racism is alive and well, it's just more subtle now.

      Voted up, useful, awesome

    • Ms Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Deidre Shelden 

      10 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you, Dexter, for such a helpful comment from your very own experiential knowledge! I was wondering what caused the disconnect that you explain here. I'm so sadden to hear you say the black community is suffering even more, now. I will write my GOP rep to "bring blacks back into the party" and hope Herman Cain, also, can make some headway. Appreciate your great information!

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 

      10 years ago from United States

      Hi Ms. Dee! Great hub. You are so right in that both parties bear responsibility for how black voters have been treated. Somehow, the contributions of the Republicans in relation to black gains after the Civil War have been forgotten or may not be known to many blacks.

      A disconnect happened between blacks and the Republican Party after Kennedy was elected. I think mainly because of LBJ and his outreach efforts and Southern Democrats switching to the GOP.

      In any event, most black voters have put their hopes on the Dems and over the years, promises have been made and broken. And as of now, even with a black Democrat as President, the black community is suffering more than it has in decades.

      I would like to see more of a real effort on behalf of GOP politicians to bring blacks back into the party. It has been disingenuous in the recent past but this country could really move forward if the GOP would really go after the Dems about how they have "helped" the black community through the years. I think the black middle class would really listen, especially now.

      Anyway, great hub and voted up, up and away!


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