First Vote: How African Americans Used the Vote
The ratification of the 15th Amendment in March 1870 extended the franchise to all African American men, transforming American politics. These million men, political equals at the ballot box, had been chattel slaves and property only a decade earlier. The conventional story dismisses the 15th Amendment as a sham because enthusiasm to enforce the right of black men to vote faltered. Not noted in this meta story is that the effective termination of black voting rights happened decades later, in the 1890s and in the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century: the greatest disenfranchisement in American history was aimed not only at black men in the South, but at Asians, the poor everywhere, the immigrant, and the foreigner in a new, narrower America. The conventional narrative ignores that quarter of a century, when black men voted, and continued to do so, often against great odds. This counternarrative, based on new evidence, can be told in only one place: Kentucky. This is that story.
Dr. Donald A. DeBats is Professor and Head of American Studies at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. His research interests cover contemporary and past US politics; he is a frequent commentator on current US politics and has written extensively on US political history. His degrees are from Michigan State University (Mathematics) and the University of Wisconsin, Madison (MA, History) and PhD (major field: American History; minor field; Political Science).