How does the Fifteenth Amendment relate to black suffrage, both historically and currently?

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With the South’s defeat in the Civil War and the abolition of slavery across the reunified United States of America, the way was paved to fully incorporate blacks into the American polity through the formalization via the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of citizenship for African Americans and ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed blacks and all other people of color the right to vote in elections. The text of the Fifteenth Amendment is as follows:

Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2: The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

While ratification of those two amendments should have resolved once and for all the status of African Americans within the United States, Southern states remained militantly recalcitrant. The policy and practice of Reconstruction only partially succeeded in reunifying the nation under the spirit as well as letter of these constitutional provisions. Southern defiance was manifested in the passage of what were known as Jim Crow laws, statutes passed across the South intended to continue the marginalization of the vast region’s African American population and to maintain the latter’s subservience to the white citizenry. What emerged was the institutionalization of racial segregation that would survive well into the twentieth century.

Jim Crow laws included a series of state laws intended to deprive American Americans of the right to vote through the implementation of requirements, such as the payment of poll taxes and the passage of literacy tests, that targeted primarily African American citizens. It would take another century following ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments for the final obstacles to voting rights for African Americans to be finally eliminated through passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Public Law 89-110).

Today, there are no legal or structural barriers to full participation in the democratic process by African Americans. Many on the left side of the political spectrum, however, argue that efforts on the part of their political opponents to require voters to prove their identities at polling stations (e.g., through display of drivers’ licenses or other government-issued forms of identification) constitute efforts at depriving African Americans and others of their right to vote.

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