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  • Betty A. Burnett

Grateful for the Privilege to Vote

What Voting Me Means to Me

I have been a voter for years and was privileged to work at the polls for a few years. Once I realized the importance of voting, it became a norm for me.

When I think of what mine and your forefathers went through, that caused us to be privileged to vote, I feel so blessed. Their suffering was not in vain.

A terrible and bloody Civil War freed enslaved Americans. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1868) granted African Americans the rights of citizenship. However, this did not always translate into the ability to vote. Black voters were systematically turned away from state polling places. To combat this problem, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870.

It says:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Yet states still found ways to circumvent the Constitution and prevent blacks from voting. Poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation all turned African Americans away from the polls.

Until the Supreme Court struck it down in 1915, many states used the "grandfather clause " to keep descendants of slaves out of elections. The clause said you could not vote unless your grandfather had voted -- an impossibility for most people whose ancestors were slaves.

This unfair treatment was debated on the street, in Congress and in the press. A full fifty years after the Fifteenth Amendment passed, black Americans still found it difficult to vote, especially in the South.

As a citizen of the United States of America whose forefathers helped to build this country, this gives more reason to vote, and I hope other African Americans feel the same way.

~ Betty A. Burnett ~

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