15th Amendment

The 15th Amendment states that the right to vote cannot be denied based on race, color, or "previous condition of servitude," which means that being a former slave was not a reason to deny voting rights. Along with the 13th and 14th Amendments, it is the third of the Reconstruction Amendments that were adopted after the end of the Civil War. It was adopted on March 30, 1870.

The right to vote is one of the most powerful privileges in the United States. This was immediately obvious when African Americans joined with white voters to help push the Republican Party into power after the Civil War. A small number of African Americans were even elected to Congress during Reconstruction. However, it was not long before state governments in the South passed their own laws that made equal voting rights for African Americans nearly impossible. For a century, intimidation tactics and poll taxes were used to keep African Americans from voting. For example, it was not at all unusual for an African American voter in the South to be expected to read a complicated passage from the Constitution in order to be allowed to vote, but a white voter behind him in line was not expected to do the same.

It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to correct the unconstitutional discrimination that had been going on in the South for decades. Signed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Voting Rights Act stated that testing voters on their ability to read or write and charging a poll tax was not legal. It also said that some states had to report to the federal government if they intended to make major changes to their voting policies or procedures. In 2013, part of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court, which said that the South is not the same place it was 50 years ago and those states should not have the federal government monitoring their voting procedures.


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