Celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment: Equality Before the Law

Ratified on February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was designed to prevent the political disenfranchisement of African American men. It stated that the right to vote could not be denied or abridged by federal or state governments because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Ratification of the amendment was made a precondition for the admission of Confederate states to the Union. However, through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests, and other tactics, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans by 1900. Only the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 restored full voting rights to black men while also extending them to black women. The central panel of this lithograph memorializes a Fifteenth Amendment celebration in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 19, 1870; the smaller vignettes feature portraits of prominent abolitionists and politicians (including Hiram Rhoades Revels and Abraham Lincoln) as well as scenes of African Americans participating in the daily life of the nation.


Thomas Kelly after James C. Beard. The Fifteenth Amendment. Celebrated May 19th 1870. Lithograph, 1870.
The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division.


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