African American Suffrage

Frederick Douglass: We Welcome the Fifteenth Amendment

Frederick Douglass (1818-95) was an American abolitionist. Born a slave, Douglass escaped at age 20 and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist. Douglass’ work as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s. The quote below is from Frederick Douglass’ New York speech “We Welcome the Fifteenth Amendment” that was delivered on May 12 & 13 of 1869.”

 “I must say that I do not see how any one can pretend that there is the same urgency in giving the ballot to women as to the negro. With us, the matter is a question of life and death. It is a matter of existence, at least in fifteen states of the Union. When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.”


  1. What kind of document is this (primary or secondary)? How do you know?
  2. Who was Frederick Douglass?
  3. When was this speech given?
  4. How does Frederick Douglass’ quote exploit the brutality against African Americans?


What a Colored Man Should Do to Vote

What a Colored Man Should Do to Vote was a pamphlet published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the 1900s. This pamphlet gave instruction and tips to African American males when voting in southern states. Below is an expert from What a Colored Man Should do to Vote. When analyzing this document, keep in mind that the 15th amendment was ratified February 26, 1869.



  1. What kind of document is this (primary or secondary)? How do you know?
  2. Who was the document created for?
  3. Where was the document written?
  4. Do you think that the General Advice section was helpful for African Americans? Why or why not?5. After reading Douglass’ quote and “What a Colored Man Should do to Vote,” do you think that “What a Colored Man Should do to Vote” is a realistic suggestion for African Americans during the Jim Crow era? Explain.


Harper’s Weekly: First Vote

Harper’s weekly was an American political magazine based in New York from 1857 to 1916. This illustration is known as “The First Vote” – A Journey of Civilization to help support African American’s right to vote. The illustration was published November 14th, 1867, which was 3 years before the 15th Amendment. The illustration is conveying a message that voting rights for African Americans was inevitable.



  1. What is the title of this publication?
  2. When was it published?
  3. What are the people standing in the picture doing?
  4. Examine the clothing and appearance of the four men voting. What message do you think the author was conveying based on the way they are dressed?
  5. What do you notice about the demeanor of the white male behind the ballot box? Why do you think the illustrator included him?


Recollection of the 1960s 

The video below is actual footage of the brutalities African Americans faced to gain their right to vote. The video includes footage from 1965 in Selma, Alabama – a small town that was opposed to allowing African Americans to vote. On Sunday, March 7, 1965 Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Leadership Conference (SCLC) and The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) peacefully marched the streets of Selma to protest for African American voting rights. When the protesters walked across the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, police officials blocked the protesters from going any further. Now known as “Bloody Sunday” law enforcement began beating, shooting, and gassing nonviolent protesters.

Video: African Americans Recall 1960s Fight for Voting Rights


  1. What law did president Johnson sign into law?
  2. When did the march to Selma occur?
  3. What did the first interviewee mean when he said “a vote-less people is a hopeless people?”
  4. Why do you think it was so important that American citizens watched the brutalities that occurred in Selma on their televisions? 

  5. Are we still fighting for civil rights today?