What Does Disenfranchisement Mean?
What Does Disenfranchisement Mean? Disenfranchisement is the systematic denial of the right to vote to any identifiable group of American citizens. The word “disenfranchised” is not limited to depriving someone, namely, blacks the right to vote—it extends further. When an individual is disenfranchised, they are literally stripped of power and privileges.
For about a quarter of a century after the Civil War, African Americans, fighting fraud and violence, managed to vote. In some states, the Republican Party remained active and teamed with anti-redeemer Democrats to make headway against the old South hierarchy.
However, this progress was stemmed and began to reverse by the end of the century. In some cases, the revoking of the right to vote culminated in bloody violence, as in the Wilmington (North Carolina) Riot of 1898. Between 1890 and 1906, every southern state established legal structures to eradicate black voting. Because the Fifteenth Amendment forbids restricting the right to vote on the basis of race or previous servitude, disenfranchisement was instituted by a color-blind legal system, a Jim Crow society, and violence.
The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV)
“The United States Constitution prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”.
To effect disenfranchisement legally, poll taxes, property tests, literacy tests, and, in some states, grandfather clauses were instituted. All the laws were applied in a manner that made it impossible for African Americans to exercise their right to vote. Disenfranchisement was reinforced by the Jim Crow system and the doctrine of separate but equal, which was sanctified by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
Finally, where the legal structure did not do its job, violence did. In the South, merely trying to vote could mean death. #Lynching was an extralegal mechanism by which white citizens reinforced to blacks their place in society and the consequences of trying to step outside that place, especially by voting. The federal government reinforced these state mechanisms by looking the other way. In 1891, the Senate defeated an attempt to protect black voting rights and regularly stalled anti-lynching legislation. The Supreme Court acknowledged and accepted disenfranchisement of black voters. The constitutional protections that should have shielded blacks from southern violence became useless. Mob rule, reinforced by violent riots, often set the tone.
As late as 1940, only 3 percent of adult black southerners were registered to vote. It was not until the mid-1960s, amid nationally televised violence, that official legal #disenfranchisement came to an end in the South. In August 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.
The impetus for this act was in large part the tragedy at Selma, Alabama, dubbed Bloody Sunday (1965). The country watched in horror as a white mob viciously attacked black marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Selma followed on the heels of the Freedom Summer (Mississippi) of 1964, which saw violent attempts to suppress black efforts to vote and the translation of that violent reaction into political emasculation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The #BloodySunday march can only be described as an officially sanctioned race riot, where the sheriff and state troopers savagely beat about 600 peaceful demonstrators as they attempted to cross the bridge and make their way to Montgomery to register to vote. This was followed by a call for another march by Martin Luther King, Jr. Before the second march could even start, James Reeb, a #Unitarian minister, was murdered by a group of whites. The Monday after Reeb’s death, President Johnson gave a televised speech to a joint session of Congress to announce that he would submit the legislation that became the Voting Rights Act five months later. The act pledged that the rights enshrined in the Constitution would be effectively guaranteed by the power of the federal government, theoretically ending black disenfranchisement.
Disenfranchisement in 2016:
- Felony Disenfranchisement
- The Sentencing Project
- Did the Fifteenth Amendment Repeal Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment?