Study Guide

Voting Rights Act Timeline

By U.S. Congress

Timeline

January 12, 1863

Emancipation Proclamation Signed

In the middle of the dregs of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed an executive order that we know as the Emancipation Proclamation; declaring all slaves—well, all slaves in rebelling territories; a distinction that wouldn't ultimately matter for all too long—free.

This was a critical first step on the treacherously long road to equality.

April 9, 1865

General Robert E. Lee Surrenders at Appomattox

The Confederate Army was cornered at the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse, they surrendered, and Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant talked shop the next morning about the terms of surrender. This was the critical turning point of the war, and the Confederacy would be dealt a conga-line of defeats moving forward.

February 3, 1870

15th Amendment Passed

In the wake of the Civil War, the 15th Amendment granted universal (male) suffrage, regardless of race or color. Another baby-step forward.

1877

Reconstruction Ends

In one of America's most infamous shady backroom deal, Rutherford B. Hayes agrees to withdraw Federal troops from the South—where they were busy enforcing the past three amendments—if Congress broke the presidential tie in his favor.

After troops moved out, all of the newly minted Republican governments of the South fell back into the hands of southern Democrats.

1890-1910

Voting Rights Restrictions Passed in the South

Over the course of these twenty years, ten out of eleven Southern states passed various kinds of voting restrictions, from poll taxes to the infamous Grandfather clause; allowing anyone whose grandfather could vote in the United States from having to deal with any of the newly erected red tape around voting.

And these restrictions were insanely racist. While none of them mentioned restricting the Black vote per se, they were absolutely passed with that in mind.

June 21, 1915

Guinn v. United States

An early attempt at stopping all the Southern voting shenanigans going on, this Supreme Court state ruled that the Grandfather clause was flagrantly disrespecting the 15th Amendment, and would henceforth be banned.

Predictably, Southern states immediately passed legislation to sidestep the ruling; Oklahoma, for example, passed a law restricting anyone who couldn't vote prior to the Supreme Court ruling from voting.

August 8, 1920

Nineteenth Amendment Ratified

Another critical step on the road to voting parity, the 19th Amendment ensured women the right to vote; finally meaning that every citizen of the United States had their voting rights absolutely guaranteed, enshrined in the very document on which the Government is formed from.

The fact that the timeline does not end here, of course, is almost the literal definition of dramatic irony.

May 17, 1954

Brown v. Board of Education

This landmark Supreme Court case struck down segregation in schools specifically, but more broadly marked the beginning of the end of the "separate but equal" justification for southern Jim Crow laws. Many historians consider this day to be the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.

January 20, 1961

John F. Kennedy Inaugurated

Riding a wave of voters' optimism, John F. Kennedy and his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, slide on into the Oval Office. While JFK speaks out against racism in the Jim Crow South, he doesn't pass legislation seeking to correct it.

November 22, 1963

JFK Assassinated

Shot in the head during a motorcade procession in Dallas, Texas, JFK sadly vacated the seat that his vice president, LBJ, would go on to fill in his absence.

July 2, 1964

Civil Rights Act passed

LBJ used the national mood of mourning to pass landmark legislation in the arena of Civil Rights. This act banned segregation and unfair hiring practices based on race and color.

August 16, 1965

Voting Rights Act passed

You know the one: you're reading all about it. Johnson passed this act as an effort to finally squash any attempts to restrict voting based on race and color, and put the states under direct federal oversight to do so.

June 25, 2013

Shelby County v. Holder

All good things must come to an end.

In 2013, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, under the dubious legal justification that "things have changed," and ergo racism was apparently over, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was deemed unconstitutional and states were no longer required to get federal oversight to change their voting rights legislation.

2016

New Voting Restrictions During A Presidential Election

As part and parcel of the 2013 ruling, fifteen states had new, much more stringent voting requirements in place for the first time since the Voting Rights Act was put into place. How the act affected the election precisely is unclear at the moment, but it's definitely important to keep in mind.

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