Black Codes, Jim Crow, and Obama: The History of Voter Disenfranchisement

Black Codes, Jim Crow, and Obama: The History of Voter Disenfranchisement

How have the Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws of the post-civil war reconstruction facilitated today’s voter manipulation and electoral fraud? 

| This article originally appeared on Mystic Politics / by Everett Tucker.

In an around the era of America’s civil war, the newly emancipated slaves enjoyed extremely limited forms of freedom. The ‘Black Codes’, along with the ‘Jim Crow Laws’, were legislation designed to emasculate, suppress, and obstruct the progress of newly freed slaves, and other blacks, in the ‘new south’ postbellum period of reconstruction. The forced-turned-wage-laborers were not citizens in the way we recognize today.

The Emancipation Proclamation and subsequent legislation may have given the freed-peoples rights on paper, but how to enforce it? Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 which basically flooded the conquered south with jack-booted babysitters, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 forbidding racial segregation, and ratified the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 providing the right to vote.

The Radical (abolitionist) Republicans, controlling congress in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination, saw this legislation as the only way to keep power, by enfranchising or giving suffrage or the right to vote to black men. Black republicans sent chills down the spine of white supremacist democrats who publicly denounced and feared “negro domination” in American electoral politics.

While historical metrics show us that only 6% of southern politicians of this period were black, the democrats of the north and south worked together in a cohesive agenda to end the threat of ‘black rule’, which seems similar to our modern islamophobic propaganda issued from the Teavangelicals and Religious Right.

The racial agenda of the democrats manifested itself in legislative backsliding leading to de facto black disenfranchisement and de jure racial segregation. As the majority of southern blacks had been purposefully kept from learning how to read, to limit their progressive capacity, literacy tests for voting that these paranoid democrats enacted were effectively anti-black actions. Today’s Republican-led attempts to obstruct senior citizens and the lower-class from voting with their voter ID laws are reminiscent of this.

The difference with today and the postbellum reconstruction is that they were at least up front about their desire to see blacks disenfranchised, whereas our conservative right plays a tongue-in-cheek lip service to non-existent voting fraud, ironically being the party known for massive electoral malfeasance.

The Reconstruction-era Democrats also had poll taxes, which charged a fee to vote, to prevent low-income votes. The most obscure and arbitrary act to prevent black males from voting was preventing people whose Grandfather hadn’t voted from pulling the lever during elections.

It should also be mentioned that women, white or otherwise, continued to lack the right to vote in the eyes of the paternal and white-protestant government. During this period it is more of a matter of who COULD vote.

The postbellum Reconstruction also saw a marked difference in the mechanisms of wealth acquisition for the moneyed overlords. As forced-labor undergirded plantations became illegal, the industrial elite looked to the technological advancements of the industrial revolution for answers. More and more the women of the south were utilized as extremely low-income wage labor for sweatshop factories that produced prodigious profits for their owners.

White and Black women were both leaving the domestic field in droves: whites because they came to America for equality, and not to be ordered around by the middle class; and blacks because the newly reconciled black marriages were hesitant to see the wives back under the auspices of white men who had historically raped and abused them. Organizations like the Freedmen’s Bureau worked double duty to oversee labor and deal with inevitable disputes with former slave owners and former slaves, but this did little to assuage the appropriate reticence of black husbands who feared for their wives.

This exodus from the domestic market placed women of all colors in the resource marketplace to be leveraged by entrepreneurs seeking low-wage low-knowledge workers to ‘man’ their factories. This would later serve to propel hard-working women into the middle-class, although for quite some time after (and to some extent still today) they had a glass ceiling impeding their progress in both society and business.

A wonderful development contemporary to the reconstruction is the implementation of public schools seeking to address the massive rates of illiteracy that especially affected newly emancipated and still-disenfranchised black men and women. The segregation of these schools was a microcosm of what would become institutionalized apartheid in the American south.

Known as Jim Crow Laws, the southern south had a systematic and institutionalized system of near-apartheid that ensured black people had nowhere near the rights of the imagined ‘superior’ whites. This in effect was the repercussion of black freedoms, where former slave-owning aristocrats and low-income whites where united by their tribal propensity to humiliate freed Peoples in a disgusting and clumsy show of would-be supremacy

Low-income wage-laborers were especially dependent on and troubled by the systematic humiliation their segregated public transportation availed them of, with some noting that black people couldn’t pay for the luxury whites get for free. In 1896 the landmark Plessy v Ferguson case set precedence for legal segregation by finding it ‘separate but equal’, therefore finding this near-apartheid in-line with the 14th amendment. This ruling stood for some sixty years, and the repealing of the policy led to vitriol and violence.

I wonder what the antagonists of the newly emancipated would say if they could have seen Obama in office. Would the idea of a black President accelerate their fears of a black planet and black dominance in electoral politics? Can it honestly be said we live in a post-racial America, when we see the same sort of voter disenfranchisement? I wonder what tricks the vote manipulators of old would do to prevent the ‘negro domination’ of a second Obama term.

Everett Tucker is the creator and editor of Mystic Politics. He is condescending, overconfident, under-educated, and extremely interested in exploring religiopolitical overlap, the psychology of belief, and the conspiratorial tropes & memes- real or otherwise- of popular culture. Signup for email updates to be notified of future journalistic & historic hack work.

| Sources: Article (Everett Tucker) / Image (Reconstruction-contemporary political cartoon).

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