Community & Government

The Power of the Black Vote

Jelani Cobb reveals the direct relationship between African Americans in the South and voter suppression efforts after the Civil War. Black Americans did not achieve all the rights of full citizenship until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Topics include: The 15th Amendment: Countering White Supremacy

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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NARRATOR: Thousands of Negro voters were voting for the first time in their lives. Polling places were swamped by both Negro and white voters, some of whom stood in line for up to four hours before casting their ballots. - If we understood the history of race in the United States and the history of Black people in the United States, we can see a direct relationship between, for instance, the growing numbers of African-Americans in the South and the regime of voter suppression that comes about after the end of the Civil War. It's not until reconstruction that Black people are able to actually access the ballot in the South. But when they do, more than 600 African-Americans are elected to political office throughout the South, in these places where they have very significant numbers of the population. And it was in reaction to that, the fact that there were Black legislators passing laws, the fact that there were, in some instances, Black governors and Black senators, that the push came to remove Black people from political contention. They had never seen anything like a Black senator, as they had in Mississippi, or a Black governor, as they had in Louisiana. And so the reaction bolstered the kind of white supremacy politics. And then just more recently, in 2008, we saw African-Americans vote at the highest percentage of any part of the American electorate, specifically Black women, and they helped deliver the White House to the first Black President, Barack Obama. When we have the conversation about voter suppression after the end of the Civil War and the campaign of terror, and violence, and intimidation that eradicated black voting participation, it's not difficult to discern the similarities between the current push for voter suppression driven by the election of the first Black president and the reaction that we saw to produce voter suppression in the South after the elections of the first Black congressmen, senators, and governor after the end of the Civil War. So it's unusual for the Constitution to be amended. It doesn't happen very often. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Constitution was amended three times in five years. That's unprecedented. With the exception of the Bill of Rights, we've never seen that many changes happen that quickly. And it was because they were grappling with fundamental questions about American society. Would you have a society where slavery was permissible under the Constitution? If you decide no, then you have to have a 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, with a particular asterisk, except for people who have been duly convicted of a crime. That leads to big problems down the line. The 14th Amendment, will you have a society in which it is impossible for Black people to be considered citizens? If you answer no, then you have to ratify the 14th Amendment and establish equal protection under the law. And the 15th Amendment, which is crucial, the 15th Amendment gives the rig...

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From critical race theory to the 1619 Project, Black intellectuals are reshaping conversations on race in America. Now seven of those preeminent voices share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future. Gain a foundational understanding of the history of white supremacy and discover a path forward through the limitless capacity and resilience of Black love.

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Angela Davis, Cornel West, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, and John McWhorter

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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