Although the fight for voting rights was a staple of the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and through the 1960s, protests over the ability to participle in the civic process have taken place long before. NewsOne takes a look at one such protest that occurred on this day in 1838 in the state of Pennsylvania.
Around the tail end of the Civil War, many African Americans began to challenge the status quo, especially in the North where many Black people thrived in varying areas of society.
Desiring the same rights as their White counterparts, they would launch a series of campaigns regarding their citizenship and place in the world.
A year prior to the protest, the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention of 1837 disenfranchised Blacks and constitutionally barred them from the electoral process. Although many petitioned against the ruling, their call went unheard at the convention.
The following year, a large gathering of African Americans went to the Convention to issue an appeal statement decrying the ruling and offered a moving and humbling statement:
What have we done to forfeit the inestimable benefits of this charter? Why should tax-paying colored men, any more than other tax-payers, be deprived of the right of voting for their representatives? It was said in the Convention that this government belongs to the Whites. We have already shown this to be false, as to the past. Those who established our present government designed it equally for all. . . . . .
We love our native country, much as it has wronged us; and in the peaceable exercise of our inalienable rights, we will cling to it. The immortal Franklin, and his fellow laborers in the cause of humanity, have bound us to our homes here with the chains of gratitude. We are PENNSYLVANIANS, and we hope to see the day when Pennsylvania will have reason to be proud of us, as we believe she has now none to be ashamed! Will you starve our patriotism?. . .
Firm upon our Pennsylvania BILL OF RIGHTS, and trusting in a God of Truth and justice, we lay our claim before you, with the warning that no amendments of the present Constitution can compensate for the loss of its foundation principle of equal rights, nor for the conversion into enemies of 40,000 friends.
Although free Blacks in Pennsylvania had the right to vote before the new state constitution rule was implemented, many did not participate in the practice.
It was not until the right was snatched away that African Americans in the state realized the gravity of their previous inaction.
As expected, the eloquent statement fell on deaf ears, during a time when racism and segregationist rule had deeply implanted roots in America. Other protests would ensue, but it would not be until the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 before a semblance of balance would be restored.