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The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution

The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution

The 15th Amendment guaranteed African-American men the right to vote. Almost immediately after ratification, African Americans began to take part in running for office and voting.

Grades

9 - 12

Subjects

Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History

Image

Voters in 1950s Harlem

The United States' 15th Amendment made voting legal for African-American men. However, voting for them was almost nonexistent in some places, especially in the South, because of threats, violence, and unethical practices, like poll taxes

Photograph by Bettman/Getty Images

The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on February 3, 1870. 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.” The 15th Amendment guaranteed African American men the right to vote. In addition, the right to vote could not be denied to anyone in the future based on a person’s race.

Although African American men technically had their voting rights protected, in practice, this victory was short-lived. Local and state governments found ways to weaken the amendment to prevent African Americans from voting. Disenfranchisement is the word used to describe laws passed to prevent people from voting and obtaining rights other citizens have.

The actions to prevent African Americans from exercising their civil rights became known as “Jim Crow” laws. Some examples of Jim Crow laws are poll taxes (a fee required to vote—generally not applied to white voters), literacy tests (the Mississippi test asked applicants to copy a portion of the state constitution at the white administrator's discretion), or owning property as a condition of voting. Jim Crow laws were enforced by election boards or by groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, who intimidated African Americans with violence if they voted or wished to do so. The southern region of the United States made little or no effort to protect the voting rights of African Americans guaranteed by the Constitution.

The 15th Amendment was a milestone for civil rights. However, it was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by Congress that the majority of African Americans would be truly free to register and vote in large numbers.

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Director
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Author
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Producer
Clint Parks
other
Last Updated

November 1, 2022

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