Black suffrage

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Black suffrage refers to black people's right to vote and has long been an issue in countries established under conditions of black minorities.

United States[edit]

MLK and Malcolm X

Suffrage in the United States has had many advances and setbacks. Prior to the Civil War and the Reconstruction Amendments to the U.S. Constitution some free Black men in the United States were given the right to vote. However, this right was often abridged, or taken away. Following Emancipation, Black people were theoretically equal before the law, including theoretical suffrage for Black women from 1920. Black men were given voting rights in 1870, while black women were effectively banned until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When the United States Constitution was ratified (1789), a small number of free blacks were among the voting citizens (male property owners) in some states.[1] Most black men in the United States did not gain the right to vote until after the American Civil War. In 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified to prohibit states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude." This was before the former Confederate States of America implemented "Jim Crow" regulations that had the effect of denying the vote to many Blacks.

"Black suffrage" in the United States in the aftermath of the American Civil War explicitly referred to the voting rights of only black men. All women still had many hurdles to face before obtaining this right.

The passage of the 19th Amendment, which was ratified by the United States Congress on August 18 and certified as law on August 26, 1920 technically granted women the right to vote. In fall 1920, many Black women showed up at the polls. [2] It was only after the Voting Rights Act was passed nearly a half century later, on August 6, 1965, that black women voted freely.


The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 restricted the right of Aboriginal Australians to vote in Australian federal elections. This Act was changed in 1962, when the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended.[3]

British Empire and United Kingdom[edit]

  • Republic of Ireland citizens, although not Commonwealth Citizens still enjoy full voting rights in the UK, occupying the unique position of Foreigners with British subject hood.

South Africa[edit]

Engraving of the first opening of the Cape Parliament in 1854. The new constitution barred discrimination on the basis of race or colour and, in principle at least, the Parliament and other government institutions at the time were explicitly colour-blind.

Cape Colony[edit]

  • The Cape Qualified Franchise restricted voting by property ownership but not explicitly by race.
    • In 1853, the Queen authorized a Cape Colony parliament, which drafted a Constitution with no explicit racial restriction.
    • Cape Colony's "Responsible Government" Constitution, issued in 1872, explicitly prohibited racial discrimination.
    • Under Prime Minister Gordon Sprigg, the Colony passed the 1877 "Registration Bill", disenfranchising Black communal land owners.
    • The Franchise and Ballot Act of 1892 raised the threshold for suffrage from £25 to £75, accomplishing de facto disenfranchisement of many non-White voters

South Africa[edit]



  • Before the Revolution, only some local elections were held, the first real national suffrage appeared in 1791.
  • From 1791, France installed several male suffrage systems, alternating between census and universal suffrage. In mainland France, there was no racial criterion to be a voter so technically from this date, Black (male) voters existed and received the same rights as non-Blacks. They were still rare as segregation in France was not based directly on skin color or racialism but on the status as a slave or as a free human. Later it would be based on status as a mainland citizen or as a colony citizen.
  • From there, through the first half of the 19th century, frequent changes in the national government caused the colonies (where most slaves were, as their presence was restricted in mainland France) to have different rules than mainland France, often illegally. Several uprising occurred in the colonies during this period and the colonial rules diverged considerably from mainland France.
  • In mainland France:
    • In 1794 the government abolished slavery.
    • In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte re-established slavery and, possibly owing to his disagreements with Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a black general, forbade Blacks and people of mixed-ancestry (mulâtres) to enter mainland France.
    • In 1815 slave trade was abolished, but not slavery
    • In 1848 slavery is formally abolished in France and all slaves are freed.
  • In the French Colonial Empire, however, most indigenous people were not recognized as full French citizens and therefore often did not have the right to vote:
    • Vincent Ogé, who had been working in Paris during the Revolution, returned to the island slave colony of Saint-Domingue and demanded voting rights. Ogé led an insurrection in 1790 and was executed in 1791. Enslaved people took control of the island in the subsequent Revolution and established the Republic of Haiti. (Elections were held but the democracy was not stable.)
    • France promoted a model of assimilation according to which Blacks and indigenous people could gain voting (and other) rights by successfully conforming to French culture. These high-status Blacks were known as les Évoluées.
    • People living in French colonies primarily fell under the Code de l'indigénat. Les indigènes had some voting privileges, but these could be modified without their consent.
    • Following the Revolution of 1848, France granted limited representation to the Four Communes of Senegal. Ordinary residents of these cities gained full voting rights in 1916 after the election of Blaise Diagne.
    • Lamine Guèye (another Senegalese politician) also achieved expanded voting rights ("Loi Lamine Guèye") for people in the colonies.
    • Residents of African colonies were permitted to vote in the 1958 French constitutional referendum, which established the French Community. Most colonies voted for independence, resulting in the creation of 17 Black nations in the Year of Africa.

Belgian Congo[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walton Jr, Hanes; Puckett, Sherman C.; Deskins, Donald R., eds. (2012). The African American Electorate: A Statistical History. Vol. I Chap. 4. CQ Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-087289508-9.
  2. ^ "For Black women, the 19th Amendment didn't end their fight to vote". History. 2020-08-07. Retrieved 2021-12-20.
  3. ^ "Electoral milestones for Indigenous Australians". Australian Electorla Commission. Archived from the original on 2018-08-28. Retrieved 2019-11-12.
  4. ^ "The History of the Parliamentary Franchise". House of Commons Library. 1 March 2013: 6. Retrieved 16 March 2016. Ancient voting rights {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

External links[edit]

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