On this day in labor history the year was 1870.
That was the day the Fifteenth Amendment was adopted into the United States Constitution.
It was the third of the Reconstruction amendments.
It prohibited voting restrictions on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
Premier historian Eric Foner states that the Reconstruction Amendments reflected “a newly empowered national state and the idea of a national citizenry enjoying equality before the law.
These legal changes also arose from the militant demands for equal rights from the former slaves themselves.”
The bulk of Southern states refused to ratify but then capitulated. Interestingly, New York sought and failed to revoke its early ratification.
The amendment split the women’s suffrage movement for its failure to codify women’s voting rights.
Some Radical Republicans also abstained on the basis that it did not also prohibit poll taxes or literacy tests. Immediately, the 15th amendment came under attack.
The Ku Klux Klan terrorized black voters and Reconstruction governments for years.
One of the most extreme examples was the 1873 Colfax massacre.
After the Compromise of 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes refused to enforce civil rights protections.
The rise of discriminatory Jim Crow laws effectively disenfranchised Southern blacks for nearly a century.
Congress would finally enforce the 15th amendment fully through the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
However, the Act has come under attack most recently, as in the 2013 case, Shelby County v. Holder.
Jurisdictions with histories of voter restrictions no longer have to obtain preclearance before implementing changes to voting laws and practices.
Over 150 years after the end of the Civil War, African-Americans are still fighting to protect their right to vote.