African Americans Voting Rights: The 15 Amendment and Reconstruction Period

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African Americans Voting Rights:

The 15 Amendment and Reconstruction Period


Lesson Summary:

Students will learn about the Reconstruction Era and the problems that African American faced in the South.

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students will be able to define the term citizenship as it relates to the United States.

  • Students will understand that citizenship rights in the United States include the right to vote and that the 15th amendment eliminates race as a factor in voting eligibility.

  • Students will understand that although the voting rights of African American males were protected on paper, in practice, these new political reforms were undermined by the remnants of the slave regime in the South.

  • Students will practice chart and primary source analysis.

U.S. History - 8th and 11th Grades (2 Class Periods)

California State Standards:

  • SS: 8.11 Section.5 - Understand the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and analyze their connection to Reconstruction

  • SS 11. 10 Section 6 - Analyze the passage and effects of civil rights and voting rights legislation.

Visual Arts:

  • Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts

  • Knows how to use structure (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art

  • Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

  • skills and strategies of the reading process

Materials Needed:

  • Computers

  • Projection unit or large computer screen

  • Microsoft® Encarta Africana CD-ROM
    Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution
    Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution
    African Americans in Congress
    Voting Rights Act of 1965

Media (photo):The First Vote
Sidebar: "A Klan Victim Testifies"
Chart: "African Americans in Congress" (included)

  • U.S. Constitution: 14th and 15th Amendments (included)

  • Websites:

  • Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, pages 1595-1600, 771, 750-51, 786-87.



In addition to economic assistance, Reconstruction legislation included the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. These statements strengthened and extended the Bill of Rights to more Americans, and more specifically, afforded African American males the right to participate in elections for the first time. And, as indicated by the number of black representatives in Congress, African Americans celebrated and exercised their voting rights during the early years of Reconstruction.

Despite the fact that, on paper, African Americans achieved voting and civil rights, in practice just the opposite was occurring. No sooner had voting participation achieved a meteoric rise in many of the Southern states under Reconstruction, than it experienced an equally drastic plunge. Unfortunately, the explanation for such a change was due to such techniques as intimidation at the polls, strict voting requirements, and Ku Klux Klan harassment.

Teaching Strategy/Learning Activities:

  1. Warm-up. Display or distribute copies of The First Vote class. This illustration created by American artist A. R. Waud in 1867 shows an African American male casting his first election ballot as a white election official looks on. In class notes or journal have students brainstorm the answers to the following situation. Create a brief conversation between the two men.

What might the African American male be thinking about as he casts his ballot?
What recent legislation gives him the right to do so?
What might the white registrar be thinking as he watches this man cast his ballot?

  1. Discuss, soliciting responses from several students. Remind students that one important factor in the effectiveness of laws granting emancipation and voting rights is the general will of the public to obey them. Consider a newly defeated ex-Confederate population. How willing were many of them to obey new laws and a government that they had fought during the Civil War?

  2. Divide the class into groups of 2 to 3 students. Distribute a small packet of resources to each group: 14th Amendment, 15th Amendment, Chart of African Americans in Congress (limited to Reconstruction representatives) and 1966 voting statistics in Mississippi. Ask students to state the purpose of each document and to develop a group list of reasons why the last source cites incredibly low voting statistics, considering all of the additional pieces in favor of African Americans.)

[Note: You can photocopy the 14th and 15 Amendments provided here in the lesson plan.]

  1. Select two students to read partial segment from "A Klan Victim Testifies." Instruct the remaining students in class to add to their list, based on the reading, any additional reasons that might convince African Americans not to exercise their rights.

  2. Discuss the list that students have compiled. These should include:

poll taxes: Tax on election day vote, tough on poor sharecroppers and laborers
literacy tests: Requirement that all new voters be able to read and write; de facto discrimination against ex-slaves who were likely to be illiterate
corrupt registrars: Intentionally miscalculated votes and test scores
intimidation at the polls: Always and unfortunately effective
KKK intimidation/terrorism: There is strength in anonymity and numbers

Ask the class:

Which of these tactics would be the most effective?
Would you keep voting? Why or why not?
What are other ways that the re-emerging class of whites began to oppress former slaves again?

  1. Possible Extensions: Continue the dialogue from the journal entry. Include at least one of the disfranchisement (depriving citizens of legal rights, such as voting) measures in the exchange between the African American man and the white registrar.


  1. Navigating from the Microsoft® Encarta Africana "Find" tool (upper lefthand corner of screen) to encyclopedia articles, media, and sidebars.

  2. Moving outside Encarta Africana to sites on the Internet to research and retrieve documents.

  3. Electronic Page Worksheet


Wendy Lutz, Dover-Sherborn Middle School, Dover, MA., teaches 7th and 8th grade Social Studies.

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