Passed by Congress February 26, 1869, and ratified February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment granted African American men the right to vote, stating:
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.As a result of the 15th Amendment's extension of the vote, many African Americans voted and were elected to public office during the 1870s and 1880s; however, by the 1890s many Southern states had enacted strict voter eligibility laws in an attempt to disenfranchise black voters. Through measures such as literacy tests, poll taxes and "grandfather clauses" excluding from eligibility for the vote all whose ancestors had not voted during the 1860s, these states were able to severely limit voting rights for African Americans in the South. It would take a powerful protest movement, new federal laws and strict federal supervision in the 20th century to ensure African Americans the right to vote in many parts of the American South.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
View primary source documents related to its passage and effects at the Library of Congress Web Guide about the 15th Amendment and learn more about the 15th Amendment at your Milwaukee Public Library.
The 15th Amendment, along with the 13th and 14th, is one of the trio of Reconstruction Amendments that greatly expanded the civil rights of Americans. Stay tuned during the next two weeks to learn more about the long struggle in the 20th century to turn the promise of these civil rights into everyday reality for all Americans.