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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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Jim Crow Stories

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Smith V. Allright (1944)
The Supreme Court


In 1870, the states ratified the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, explicitly granting the right to vote to African Americans. It was the last of three amendments passed during Reconstruction to insure black rights. Slavery had been ended by the 13th amendment and citizenship for blacks had been established by the 14th. The white South, however, was determined to limit, if not deprive, African Americans of their right to vote. These devices, from the poll tax to physical violence, were only partially successful. One tactic white Southerners devised to rob blacks of the franchise was the white primary. Since the South was totally under the political control of the Democratic Party, this meant that the only really important election was the primary.

The white primary was designed to keep African Americans from voting in the primary elections, as white Democrats declared the Democratic Party primary to be the internal election of a private organization, an organization that could and did exclude blacks. "The right to vote in a primary for the nomination of candidates without discrimination by the State...is a right secured by the Constitution." In Texas, the law stated, "Be it resolved that all white citizens who are qualified to vote shall be eligible to membership in the Democratic party." After S.S. Allwright, a white election official, denied Lonnie E. Smith, a black man, the right to vote in the 1940 Texas Democratic primary, the NAACP's Thurgood Marshall and William Hastie fought Smith's case all the way to the Supreme Court. There had already been several court cases challenging the white primary, but none of them never definitively ruled on its legality. Marshall argued that as a citizen of the precinct who had paid his "poll tax," Smith had the right to vote in the Democratic Primary election. The Democratic Party argued that it was an independent organization that could include or exclude as a part of its organization anyone it pleased. In 1944 Court ruled in Marshall's favor: "The right to vote in a primary for the nomination of candidates without discrimination by the State, like the right to vote in a general election, is a right secured by the Constitution."

The barricades that prevented blacks from voting were down, and over the next few decades, millions of African Americans would vote where only thousands had voted before.

-- Richard Wormser

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Did you Know ...


The Supreme Court was first located in New York, and then Philadelphia, before moving to Washington, D.C. in 1800.
Related Pages
14th Amendment

NAACP

Democratic Party

Republican Party

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