This Black History Month, Remember the Importance of Voting Rights

Black History Month is a time when we’re intentional about recognizing how Black people have shaped the world. We often take this month to share and learn about Black firsts, significant events, and people, known and lesser-known. It’s also a chance to think deeply about the ways that Black people in the US have continuously had to fight for equal rights. They’ve used many strategies in this effort, and one of those tactics has been securing, protecting, and exercising the right to vote.

Black people and the vote in the US have a long and difficult history. In 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War, Black men were granted the right to vote with the 15th Amendment. But the disputed 1876 presidential election resulted in Rutherford B. Hayes agreeing to remove Union troops from the South in exchange for the Oval Office, helping to create a situation where Black men in the South were again denied the right to vote, or become an elected official for that matter.

The women’s suffrage movement resulted in white women obtaining the ballot in 1920. One of the ways they accomplished that was through racist rhetoric. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — nearly 100 years after the passage of the 15th Amendment — that all adult Black people, finally including Black women, secured the right to vote.

No matter what the federal government has done, though, states have always worked to keep Black people disenfranchised and out of office. From grandfather clauses and poll taxes to ID rules and outright violence, Black people’s right to vote has always been challenged — and that continues today. Recently, the Supreme Court voted to allow the use of an Alabama voting map that, it was argued, undermined the power of Black voters. In Georgia, Republican officials continue to try to make it as difficult as possible for Black Georgians to vote. Every election cycle, we hear about efforts to keep Black people from voting or discount Black votes altogether.

Despite those efforts, Black people, particularly Black women, continue to vote at higher clips than other groups. From Fannie Lou Hamer to Stacey Abrams to the thousands of voting rights activists whose names we’ll never know, the list of those who’ve done everything they can to make sure that Black votes count is long. And the fight also includes other groups that are perpetually disenfranchised, including those who have been incarcerated and immigrants.

Ensuring that all have the right to participate in democracy is an act of care. Being able to vote is a way to have a say in our government’s priorities. It’s a way of getting elected officials to enact legislation that works for all of us. It’s a way that we can demand that the government respond to our needs and guarantee that we have access to all that we have earned.

There’s no better time than this Black History Month to think about the power of the vote. It’s one way we try to shape a better world where we all prosper and ensure things such as healthcare, a living wage, and the proper work protections, including paid leave, are in place so folks and their families have what they need to thrive.

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