In Chapter 15 of his book “Give Me Liberty!”, Eric Foner mentions quite a few definitions of freedom. Garrison Frazier described freedom as “placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor, and take care of ourselves”. Another definition of freedom is the ability to own guns, dogs, move freely, and just generally “do like a white man”, to take the words of Henry Adams. Yet another idea of freedom was expressed by Frederick Douglass when he said that “slavery is not over until the black man has the ballot”. Although these definitions all differ, one thing can be agreed upon: a person does not have freedom just because he is not a slave.
The definition I chose was that which claims freedom is rooted in the right to vote. Although the rights to land ownership, material possessions and free labor are crucial, the right to vote has a lot of gravity itself. The American Government is the hand that maneuvers virtually every aspect of the lives of Americans. They can set up roadblocks to happiness and liberty just as easily as they can grant these rights. So, while guaranteeing liberties is important, guaranteeing blacks the right to vote gives them a chance to inject their ideas into government by electing officials that will be more representative of their desires. This will, in the long run, create a government that guarantees blacks the rights they need to have, while simultaneously causing a gradual turn towards prevalence of blacks themselves in government.
The freedom of the right to vote was realized in the short run to a very limited extent. The Reconstruction Act of 1867 aimed to create new governmental structure in the south, and introduced black suffrage. Finally, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1869-1870, and blacks were given the constitutional right to vote. However, after 1877, when Hayes won the presidency (due heavily to the “Bargain of 1877”), things changed. Democrats now had control of almost all of the South, and Republicans were doing little to enforce the laws that had been passed during Reconstruction. Holding the belief that the South was failing politically due to “Black Supremacy” and “ignorant voters”, Democrats were quick in removing the black voice in elections. They implemented harsh literacy tests and voting taxes which they distributed to blacks, making many of them incapable of registering to vote at all. So although the 15th amendment technically guaranteed blacks the freedom to vote, this dream was not fully realized in the short-term.
The freedom of the right to vote was truly realized in 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed. It disallowed discrimination when registering voters and put a stop to all the practices that were inhibiting blacks from registering. This allowed the majority of legal-age blacks to register to vote and actually have a say in the politics of America. Although it took nearly a century for them to fully realize their natural right to vote for government officials, the Civil Rights Movement helped propel them into an atmosphere of change that really got them what they deserved. In the long run, blacks definitely realized their right to vote, and now we even have a President who himself is of African American descent. It took America a while, but all we can say in retrospect is: better late than never.