Black Americans and the Vote

The struggle over voting rights in the United States dates all the way back to the founding of the nation. The original U.S. Constitution did not define voting rights for citizens, and until 1870, only white men were allowed to vote. Two constitutional amendments changed that. The Fifteenth Amendment (ratified in 1870) extended voting rights to men of all races. However, this amendment was not enough because African Americans were still denied the right to vote by state constitutions and laws, poll taxes, literacy tests, the “grandfather clause,” and outright intimidation. The Twenty-fourth Amendment (ratified in 1964) partly addressed this injustice by prohibiting the use of poll taxes in federal elections. In addition to these constitutional amendments, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 secured voting rights for adult citizens of all races and genders in the form of federal laws that enforced the amendments.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC on August 6,1965.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson Signs the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr. and Other Civil Rights Leaders Look on, President's Room, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC (

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