Witnessing the Dawn of Black Voting: A Tale of Two Political Revolutions
In partnership with Virginia Humanities
Featuring Dr. Chuck Welsko, KHS Civil War Governors of Kentucky project manager as a panelist.
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.
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Don DeBats is Professor and Head of American Studies at Australia’s Flinders University, Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia (hosted by iVirginia Humanities), and Director of the Jeff Bleich Center for the US Alliance in Digital Technology, Security and Governance. This work is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Collaborative Research Division, and the Australian Research Council, Discovery Projects. Don’s recent publications include The Routledge Handbook of Spatial History (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2018) [edited with Ian Gregory and Don Lafreniere] and ‘It’s Not Just What You Have, But Who You Know: Networks, Social Proximity to Elites, and Voting in State and Local Elections, “American Political Science Review, 101 (May 2017): 360-378. [with Matthew Pietryka]. Winner of the American Political Science Association’s Heinz Eulau Award for best article in the American Political Science Review, 2017 and the American Political Science Association’s Political Ties Award for the best-published article on political networks in any journal, 2016-2018.