Monday, September 22, 2008

Power to the People!

Although the Declaration of Independence proclaimed in 1776 that “all men are created equal,” a large segment of the American population – including many men and all women – was denied the right to vote until fairly recently in our history. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the right to vote was reserved almost exclusively for white male landowners over 21 years of age. The passage of these three amendments to the U.S. Constitution marked gradual changes in our voting rights:

  • The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, guarantees all Americans the right to vote, regardless of race;
  • The 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, grants women the right to vote;
  • The 26th Amendment, passed in 1971, sets the nationwide voting age at 18.

But simply revising the law isn’t always enough to change people’s behavior. During the Jim Crow era, many people of color were prevented from voting through social, economic and even physical intimidation, including the use of literacy tests, poll taxes, property ownership requirements and the restriction of primary elections to white voters. These methods of disenfranchisement were outlawed with the adoption of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"The Franchise." Encyclopedia of the American Judicial System. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987. History Resource Center US. Northampton Community Coll. Lib., Bethlehem, PA. 22 Sept. 2008

The generations who preceded us fought valiantly for the right to participate fully in our democracy. They protested, marched, picketed and spoke out; they wrote letters to Congress and to the editor; they braved the backlash of family and neighbors, ranging from ridicule and social isolation to imprisonment and physical violence. To learn more about how these courageous Americans made it possible for all of us to vote, visit the Library for these and many other resources:


  • February one (documentary about the lunch counter sit-ins begun in Greensboro, North Carolina)
    F 264 .G8 F43 2004 DVD Media Tower

  • Freedom on my mind (documentary about the Mississippi Voter Registration Project)
    E 185.93 .M6 F727 1994 DVD Media Tower

  • Iron jawed angels (fictionalized account of the suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns)
    JK 1899 .P38 I7 2004 DVD Monroe

  • Not for ourselves alone: The story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, a documentary by Ken Burns
    HQ 1412 .W36 2003 DVD Media Tower
    HQ 1412 .W36 1999 (accompanying book) Stacks


  • Judgment days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the laws that changed America, by Nick Kotz
    E 847.2 .K67 2005 Stacks

  • My soul looks back in wonder: Voices of the civil rights experience, by Juan Williams
    E 184 .A1 W455 2004 Stacks

  • Sisters: The lives of America’s suffragists, by Jean Baker
    JK 1896 .B35 2005 Stacks

  • The Voting Rights Act: Securing the ballot, by Richard Valelly
    JK 1924 .V68 2006 Stacks

  • Winning the vote: The triumph of the American woman suffrage movement, by Robert Cooney
    JK 1896 .C65 2005 Stacks & Monroe

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