As the people of Alabama voted, the cover of Harper's Magazine from November 16, 1867 [which is part of the Kinsey Collection now on display at the Freedom Center] takes on special meaning to me.
Millions of people, both of African and European descent fought to end slavery (finally achieved by the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865) and the recognition of the basic human and civil rights to the formerly enslaved (14th Amendment in July 1868). Almost immediately after the war, Freedman began voting, as depicted here in November 1867. Harper's took note of "the good sense and discretion, and above all the modesty" displayed by the freedmen. The magazine went on to note that they displayed no sense of exaltation or defiance, but were "serious, solemn and determined."
But as we know, the former Confederates, and, in fact, many in the North, resisted the important right of the Freedmen to vote, necessitating the effort to adopt the 15th Amendment in February, 1870.
If only that had been the end of the story. Jim Crow segregation suppressed the vote of African Americans with a merciless hand at the close of Reconstruction, culminating in the late 1890s. Voter suppression was enforced with literacy laws and poll taxes, as well as violence perpetrated by the KKK.
Fighting for the right to vote was a principal goal of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and '60s, culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A Supreme Court decision in 2013 weakened the ability of the federal government to protect minority voting and various forces have used ways to reduce minority voter registration and influence.
Alabama has been at the center of the struggle for full citizenship and voting rights at every turn. Today, if the Black voters of the state turn out, they could be the deciding factor in this critical special election for the U.S. Senate.
Visit the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection for inspiration and insight at the Freedom Center through February.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center