Tahlequah Daily Press


June 9, 2014

Voting rights extended by 15th Amendment

TAHLEQUAH — With passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the right to vote was supposed to be extended to all citizens of voting age - as long they were male.

A constitutional protection for women to vote was still decades away, but the 15th Amendment was an important extension of voting rights, even if federal application was desultory for much of the next century.

The amendment reads:

Section 1. 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.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The adjustment was the last of the Reconstruction Amendments. During negotiation of the text, stronger language which might have extended voting rights to other people was removed. There was also bigoted sentiment toward foreigners in the north and ethnic Chinese in the west. The 15th Amendment did not preclude further state requirements for voting, or enumerate the right of black citizens to hold public office.

Some legislators abstained from voting on the amendment because they didn’t believe it had enough teeth, but it passed the House 144-35 and the Senate 39-13.

State ratification was a struggle. Because women’s voting rights were not addressed, the amendment was opposed by the National Woman Suffrage Association of Susan B. Anthony.

Southern states with reconstruction governments quickly approved, but Georgia, Texas and Mississippi were strong-armed when the House and Senate demanded ratification before the states’ readmission to Congress.

The approval of Georgia on Feb. 2, 1870, and Iowa on Feb. 3, provided requisite state sanction. Certification was announced on March 30.

Before the ink was dry on the amendment, white populations - particularly in the south - were passing laws and adopting measures to disenfranchise black Americans.

“Many southern states used practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests to stop black citizens from voting,” said State Rep. Mike Brown. “White voters were exempted from these practices by grandfather clauses. Racist organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, used violence to prevent black people from exercising their right to vote.”

Poll taxes demanded a payment to vote, and literacy tests were deliberately cumbersome or confusing. Mississippi’s 1964 test required applicants to copy a section of the state constitution - chosen by the registrar - then write an interpretation.

Louisiana’s 1964 test ordered: “Write every other word in the first line and print every third word in the same line, but capitalize the fifth word that you write,” “Divide a vertical line in two equal parts by bisecting it with a curved horizontal line that is straight at the point of bisection of the vertical,” and “Spell backwards, forwards.”

Questions on Alabama’s 1965 test included:

• Appropriation of money for the armed services can be only for a period limited to (2,4,6) years.

• Congress passes laws regulating cases which are included in those over which the U.S. Supreme Court has _______ jurisdiction. Full, no or co-appellate?

• On the impeachment of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S., who tries the case? The House of Representatives, the Senate or the Supreme Court?

Even the most illiterate and destitute whites could dodge such mischievous regulation through grandfather clauses, which exempted those whose antecedents had cast votes before a specified year. Former slaves and their descendants had no possible claim to immunity.

Dr. Daniel Savage, chair of the Department of Geography, Political Science and Sociology at Northeastern State University, called historical enforcement of the 15th Amendment “an American tragedy.”

“The south after the Civil War experienced what we call the ‘solid south,’” Savage said.

“The solid south refers to the fact that only one party had a chance to win. Because the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln, and the north, white southerners were loyal to the Democratic Party for the next century, until the south began to realign with the Republican Party in the 1960s and ‘70s.”

Even today, there are many counties in which running for office under a particular party means certain defeat. In the entire region of the post-war south, Republicans rarely appeared on ballots.

“The real election took place in the Democratic primaries,” Savage said. “Because political parties were considered private - not government - organizations, they were allowed to discriminate.

Whites-only primaries were used in many southern states until they were ruled to be unconstitutional in Smith v. Allwright of 1944.”

Smith v. Allwright was a battle in the legal war between the court and Texas, known as the Texas Primary Cases.

A black physician in El Paso, Dr. L.A. Nixon, sparked the fight when he won Nixon v. Herndon (1927) and Nixon v. Condon (1932), in which he respectively sued for damages when he was denied a Democratic primary ballot, and overturned Texas’ retaliatory statute allowing the party executive committee to establish voting eligibility.

After Texas Democrats claimed only whites could vote in their primaries, they won a victory when they were supported in Grovey v. Townsend (1935), but U.S. v. Classic (1941) deemed primaries indispensable to the election of public officials, paving the way for the Smith v. Allwright reversal.

The court again ruled against Texas in Terry v. Adams (1953), awarding damages to the plaintiffs in response to the organization of whites-only “pre-primaries” in collusion with party officials.

Other cases in the 20th century eroded black disenfranchisement, but at a glacial pace. Guinn v. U.S. (1915) was an Oklahoma case in which the Supreme Court found the state’s grandfather clause discriminatory.

A race-motivated gerrymander in Tuskegee, Ala., was ruled unconstitutional in Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960), as were poll taxes in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1960).

The 1965 Voting Rights Act, credited with truly applying the 15th Amendment, was largely defanged by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013). It was ruled that Section 4(b), dealing with a formula to determine the need for “pre-clearance” of changes to voting regulations in certain states, counties or precincts, was no longer constitutional.

Brown said the right to vote should not be assumed, whatever the constitutional protections.

“In recent years, a number of states have passed laws placing new restrictions on registering and voting,” he said. “Nine states have passed measures making it harder to vote since the beginning of 2013.”

Some states, counties or precincts heavily scrutinize voter identification. Others have reduced dates and hours of poll operation, or frequently changed voting locations.

“The people most affected by these restrictions are minorities and the urban poor,” Brown said.

“The democratic process works best when all of our citizens are included. Protecting our system of elections must not serve as an excuse to deny minorities and the poor their right to vote.”

Text Only
  • 22ndAmendment.jpg Presidential terms limited by 22nd Amendment

    The past 30 years have been marked by occasional grumbling from one American political party, and celebration from the other - depending on who occupies the White House - about the disqualification of a president after eight years of service.
    For much of the nation’s history, a presidency could last indefinitely.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • sg-Paperbacks.jpg Paperbacks still survive in the digital age

    In an era when mobile technology is always at hand, most people can access an electronic book at any time. Such literary luxuries weren’t widely available to previous generations until the dawn of the paperback book.
    Wednesday, July 30, is set as a day to celebrate the low-cost, portable book during National Paperback Book Day.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • rf-skydiver-tomahawk.jpg Former resident tapped for national skydiving award

    A man known locally for putting Tahlequah on the international map by bringing world-class skydiving events to town is being inducted in the National Skydiving Museum Hall of Fame in October.
    Norman Heaton said he’s very honored to be selected for the prestigious award given to people who have made significant contributions to the sport of skydiving.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20th-Amendment.jpg Inauguration day changed by 20th Amendment

    Sometimes an amendment is added to the U.S. Constitution that is uncontroversial and virtually unlitigated.
    Such is the 20th Amendment, which moved the seating of the new Congress and the presidential inauguration day to January, and enumerates procedure if a president-elect dies or cannot take office.
    Because the “Lame-Duck Amendment” addresses procedure, it is long.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • rf-School-Fashion.jpg Fashion show to feature local teachers

    A fun fashion event that will provide funds for one lucky area school is coming up next weekend.
    Local teachers and students have until Tuesday, July 22, to sign up for the Teacher and Student Back 2 School Fashion Show at Arrowhead Mall in Muskogee.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • rf-actress.jpg TV’s ‘Mistresses’ has second local tie

    Tahlequah has at least two ties to the TV drama “Mistresses.”
    Local florist Josh Cottrell-Mannon designed the flower arrangements for the show’s season finale, and Arriane Alexander, daughter of local resident Sharilyn Young, is portraying a television news reporter.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • rf-Stark-Sequoyah.jpg Stark enjoys making a difference

    Kristin Stark, Sequoyah Elementary Teacher of Year, loves teaching, and has a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of children.
    “I love making a difference in the lives of children; it is a wonderful feeling to make a positive impact on a child,” said Stark.

    July 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • sr-19thAmendment.jpg Women got the vote with 19th Amendment

    During its first 140 years, the United States Constitution underwent a series of changes intended to extend voting rights to those who were not white or didn’t own property - but as the American experiment entered the 20th Century, half the adult population still had no protection to vote.
    Though they certainly had political opinions, women could not cast a ballot in most states. That changed with passage of the 19th Amendment.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • renee-storyteller.jpg Cherokee, Tlingit storytellers to share their craft during special NSU event

    Two Native American cultures will be represented during a storytelling workshop featuring Cherokee Gayle Ross and Tlingit and Cherokee dancer and storyteller Gene Tagaban, of Seattle.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • 1-ts CN opt 1.jpg Cherokees commemorate Act of Union

    Cherokee Nation dignitaries met on the historic courthouse square Tuesday to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Act of Union following the end of the Trail of Tears Removal.

    July 9, 2014 1 Photo


Do you believe school administrators and college presidents in Oklahoma are paid too much?

Strongly agree.
Somewhat agree.
Somewhat disagree.
Strongly disagree.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow