On February 4th 1861, one of the most tumultuous times in America’s history began and wouldn’t see an end until 1865. America was so distracted by controlling the Souls of Black Folks that it couldn’t see how terribly it was quickly leading to its own demise. Both sides, Americans, were fighting to maintain or expand economies (the South’s economy was based on agriculture and in the North, industry) that had been fueled by the human commodities brought to America some more than two hundred years prior. And, Americans died—almost three quarters of one million Americans died in the Civil War. For African Americans, our “luck” was about to begin.
Several plans to rebuild America and reestablish it as a collective unit of states and not two halves of a whole were laid out; and, America entered a phase called Reconstruction. For African Americans three pieces of legislation changed our course in America forever and navigated the road to Reconstruction—at least for African Americans and for poor whites and new immigrants also. The Constitution was amended three times from 1865-1870—the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were just the beginning. While Andrew Johnson was not America’s first choice as president, he was the only choice following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. After all, he was Lincoln’s Vice President. Using his leverage as president, Johnson forced Confederate states to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment before they could be readmitted to the United States of America.
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The 13th Amendment
The battle to reconstruct America didn’t stop with the abolition of slavery as African Americans now had to further be integrated into America’s infrastructure. Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment was added:
Section 1: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Today, the 14th amendment is one of the most commonly used amendments in the court of law. It is at the core of immigration debate, it has been used in cases of discrimination and it has been suggested for use by political pundits and strategists regarding the Democratic / Republican showdown regarding the debt ceiling debate. From 1868 until now, the 14th amendment, remains an integral source for obtaining justice and allowing it to be extended to all.
No one can deny the feeling of relevance a person feels when he or she has the right to vote. The voter-registration process for election year (2012), the fourth election year in the twenty-first century, has been widely scrutinized by organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League (NUL) due to voter suppression tactics designed to restrict how, where and if people are able to vote. I believe the greatest initial response to civic empowerment in this country was demonstrated by Black men in 1870, the year in which the 15th Amendment was passed; these men took advantage of this new right to vote and they had a strong sense of obligation of how to use the vote to make change. When President Obama announced his bid for the presidency in 2007, there were so many naysayers and skeptics not believing he had a chance, and others were mum, refusing to say anything, but watching intently as the unthinkable* unfolded. Perhaps this was the vibe in America in 1870. When northern Republicans advocated that Blacks should have the right to vote, they were labeled as ‘Radicals.’ The mere thought of legislation inviting Black men to vote was unthinkable. For many, it was also unthinkable that the fervor created in 1870 would materialize into the presidency in 2008. But, we voted anyway and look at what happened. With the passage of the 15th Amendment came the election of over 1500 Black elected officials; and, they held posts as high as Senator and Governor. Alas, the Presidency, although nearly 140 years later, was going to happen.
I like to complete “connect-the-dot” puzzles. As children, these puzzles are used to help us to see the bigger picture when there is an inability for us to do so. America’s journey is like a connect-the-dot image; the more connections made the more complete the picture. In this election year, the next slide in our picture show has yet to be revealed, but if we stick to our understanding of how a ”connect-the-dot” puzzle works, its revelation won’t be a big surprise. The 15th Amendment speaks volumes of how voting changes lives and the 14th Amendment summons the citizen. In 2012, go to the polls. Vote!
*It wasn’t unthinkable for me as I named Barack Obama as our president when I was in Boston in 2004.