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Collection African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection


Although the Fifteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, ratified in 1870, guaranteed all male citizens the right to vote, Southern whites fearful of African-American political involvement created voting restrictions that made it nearly impossible for most African-American men to cast a ballot. These restrictions included poll taxes, literacy tests, and property-ownership requirements.

To the Colored Men of Voting Age in the Southern States: What a Colored Man Should Do to Vote. Author unknown (Philadelphia, 190-?)

This pamphlet from the early 1900s outlines the voting regulations in thirteen Southern states. It also offers "general advice" on the voting process, including a warning not to sell votes, and an appeal for African-American voters to be on "friendly terms" with their white neighbors so that they could discuss their common interests and needs.

In this article reprinted from the Atlantic Monthly, the writer and activist Archibald Grimké speaks out against the disenfranchisement of Southern African Americans. Grimké, who was the mixed-race nephew of the abolitionists Sarah Grimké and Angelina Emily Grimké, notes the danger of limiting civil rights and argues that what is bad for African Americans is bad for the nation.

Why Disfranchisement is Bad. Archibald H. Grimké (Philadelphia, 1904?)

"Disfranchisement of the negro means, without doubt, degradation of its black labor, and this in turn the certain degradation of its white labor, and this in turn inevitable industrial feebleness and inferiority, and this in turn, ultimate sectional retrogression, poverty, and a low order of civilization."

He continues:

"Whatever, therefore, renders it impossible for the negro of the South to make the most and the best of himself injures that section, and this injury to the South hurts, in turn, the whole country. For social and economic laws draw no color line, exempt from their impartial operations no race because it happens to be white, but fall equally on all, regardless of artificial distinction and discrimination, on rich and poor, on strong and weak, on black and white."