Since 1976, Black History Month has been designated to remember the contributions of people of the African Diaspora. This year’s theme is: “African Americans and the Vote.” The theme honors the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment (1920) granting woman’s suffrage and the sesquicentennial of the 15th Amendment (1870) giving black men the right to vote.
“For me, Black History Month is a time of reflection to remember those who accomplished so much with so little. This is also a yearly occasion everyone can take part in educationally, because black history is our history…together,” said Patrick Yates, manager—Diversity & Inclusion for BendBroadband.
The 15th Amendment was ratified on Feb. 3, 1870. The following month on March 31, 1870, the first African American vote was cast in Perth Amboy, N.J. by Thomas Mundy Peterson. The first state to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment was Nevada in 1869, and the last state to ratify the amendment was Tennessee in 1997.
Peterson, the son of an ex-slave worked as a janitor and handyman in Perth Amboy. After the Fifteenth Amendment was enacted, Peterson voted in a local election held at city hall over the city’s charter. Along with being the first Black person to vote in America, Peterson was also the first Black person in Perth Amboy to serve on a jury. Peterson died in 1904 at the age of 79.
While the women’s suffrage movement culminated in the passage of the 19th Amendment, women of African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, and Native American heritage were still not allowed to vote due to prevalent racism in the suffrage movement.
African-American men and women’s right to vote continued to be undermined due to a variety of factors including the poll tax and literacy tax. It would not be until the passage of the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 that the majority of African Americans in the South were allowed to register to vote.
Check out these topics on the History Channel’s website about Black History Month and the history of the 15th Amendment. Also on OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network), you can find videos that honor the civil rights legends who paved the way of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery marches.