Elections have consequences, as they say. And on this day in 1900, when Virginia voters approved the call for a constitutional convention, the consequences were huge.
Why is that? Because the whole point of this new convention was to deny African Americans the vote. This is not a goal the delegates draped in euphemism. The convention’s president, John Goode, declared that the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed suffrage to black men, was not only “a stupendous blunder, but a crime against civilization and Christianity.” It’s interesting to note that in spite of this view, Goode served as Solicitor General of the United States.
Anyway, the real trick for Goode and his cohorts was to deny African Americans their constitutional rights while a) not violating said constitution; and b) not inflicting collateral damage by denying other people the vote. Let’s say, for example, you decide to levy a poll tax. That will probably eliminate a bunch of poor blacks, but it also would eliminate a bunch of poor whites. So, you decide that if people can’t pay the tax, then they should have to provide, upon request, a “reasonable” explanation of any portion of the state constitution. Are poor, often uneducated blacks really going to be able to pass this test?
Of course not!
But wait. Lots of whites are ignorant, too.* So, for a set period of time you get to choose the registrars who will “enforce” your rules. And just to make sure, you exempt all Civil War veterans. Heck, exempt their sons, too!**
Like I said, elections have consequences, which means you always want to make darn sure they turn out exactly as you had planned.
* One does not want to be unfair. Some delegates hoped to disfranchise poor whites, too.
** There were fewer black Confederates then, apparently.
PS: How well did the convention work? In 1900, Richmond had 6,000 registered black voters; by 1903, it had 760. In Jackson Ward alone, the number dropped from 3,000 to 33.
IMAGE: The Modern Samson by Thomas Nast