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Although the slave trade was abolished in the late 19th century, various other forms of significant racial discrimination remained widespread in the United States. The slave trade was abolished on December 6, 1865, but African Americans continued to be denied their civil right to vote and were also restricted from accessing public amenities. Besides casting votes in elections, the African Americans were not eligible to run for Congress or Senate. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted on July 14, 1868, declared all people born and naturalized in the United States as citizens. However, despite being considered United States citizens, African Americans could not vote like white Americans.
Whenever an African American turned out to cast a vote, they were given a literacy test, which most failed. They would then be asked to complete a form, and later told they could not vote because the form had been completed incorrectly. Alternatively, in the South, voting officials asked African Americans to recite the constitution or explain complex provisions and amendments in the constitution before being allowed to vote. The majority asked could not recite or explain these parts of the constitution.
Martin Luther King Jr. organized peaceful, non-violent demonstrations to press the government to grant African Americans their civil voting rights. In the 1960s, he worked with organizations that championed for civil rights. Demonstrations to press for equality in civil rights of African Americans were widely supported. He urged the government to register all citizens of the US who had qualified to vote, and to remove poll taxes, literacy tests, or other restrictions. President John F. Kennedy had proposed a bill to abolish voting discrimination based on race, but the bill was stalled by the Senate Judiciary Committee. After Kennedy's assassination, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, gave the amendment of the bill a priority and urged congressmen to pass the bill. Johnson also pleaded with Americans to stop racial discrimination and treat other races as equally important.
Voting Right Amendment
It was not until 1965 that a law allowing African American to vote and preventing racial discrimination in voting was passed. The law was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965. Congress amended the act’s ‘general provision,’ providing a nationwide protection of voting rights. Martin Luther King Jr. and several Civil Rights Movement activists were present during the signing of the amendment.
How Did African Americans Benefit from the Right to Vote?
The amendment had a great impact on the lives of African Americans, who registered as voters in large numbers over a short period of time. Some African Americans were also elected to the Congress. In Mississippi, 59% of eligible African American registered as voters by 1968. President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated the first African American to cabinet, Robert C. Weaver, as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1966. Later in 1977, the first female African American, Patricia Roberts Harris, was appointed cabinet secretary for Housing and Urban Development.
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