Securing the Right to Vote
The Committee On Appeal for Human Rights recognized voting as a vital tool for empowerment in the United States. Elected officials determine local, state, and national laws, policies, budget and operations that govern our lives. COAHR organized and participated in voter education and registration drives to increase the number of black voters. In 1961, during Atlanta’s mayoral campaign between segregationist Lester Maddox and the more liberal Ivan Allen, COAHR organized a 30-day voter registration drive. Over 5,000 African Americans registered and these increased numbers help win the election for Ivan Allen.
It has been a long struggle for African Americans to gain voting rights. After the end of the Civil War, passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended voting rights to African Americans. The amendment stated that citizens’ right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. Black men were allowed to vote for the first time and 16 African Americans were elected to U.S. Congress and in Georgia 31 were elected to the General Assembly.
The Reconstruction period (1865 – 1877) was an effort by the U.S. government to reunite the country after the Civil War and provide some assistance to the newly freed slaves. The Reconstruction experiment failed as Southern segregationists regained power in national and state governments and enacted laws to restrict blacks from voting. Legally elected African American legislators were ousted from office and restrictions such as poll taxes and literacy tests were implemented to keep African Americans from registering to vote. An African American was not again elected to the Georgia Assembly until 1962.