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Posts Tagged ‘poll tax’

black-voting-rights
I attended the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference last week in Richmond, and had a wonderful time catching up with old friends, making new ones, taking classes and eating out every night for dinner which I haven’t done in years! For those of you who haven’t attended an NGS (or FGS) annual conference, I hope you will do so in the future. Now on to my post:

The challenge to find the last slaveowner for those researching African-American ancestry can be daunting. We need to trace our lines back as close to emancipation as possible and the 1870 population census becomes a critical document. If you can’t locate your ancestors in 1870, you can use other documents to record their presence in a particular time and place. Voter registration records are a widely untapped source, and although in most cases they are incomplete, they should always be searched.

For my friend Carole Hyman, we traced her ancestor Arden Hyman to the 1880 census in Edgecombe County, NC, but could not find him in 1870.  However, searching the 1867 voter registration record for Edgecombe County showed us that our Arden was in fact there:

ArdenVoter

It also showed another Hyman—Zion Hyman—noted as living in the same district. Finding those names together uncovered an important link to Arden’s enslaved roots. That “Zion” was likely Arden’s father Zion who was named in one of Arden’s marriage records. That connection helped us identify his likely slaveowner:

Arden mrg

By the end of 1866, Radical Republicans were in control of Congress and wanted to ensure some civil rights for blacks in the defeated south, but the now- President Andrew Johnson (who came to power after Lincoln’s assassination) wanted to deal with the South more leniently, and firmly believed in white supremacist notions of black people’s inferiority. He also wanted little to no retribution for former Confederates, and this clash set the scenes for what would be very familiar to most of us watching Congress today.

Important bills were constantly vetoed by Johnson (like the Freedmen’s Bureau bill and the Civil Rights bill); but the strength of the numbers of Radical Republicans enabled them to override those vetoes. Finally, the Congress decided to impeach Johnson and just get him out of the picture altogether. The House voted to impeach Johnson, but impeachment lost in the Senate by one vote. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (and later 1875) and 4 Military Reconstruction Acts. This divided the South into 5 Military districts each run by a Union General (see map below-click to enlarge). Notice that Tennessee did not go through Congressional Reconstruction and had rejoined the Union prior to enactment of these laws:

image001
As a condition of re-joining the Union, the Southern States were required to ratify the 14th amendment, conferring citizenship to former slaves, and after 1870, also the 15th amendment. Reconstruction, the name given to the period between the end of the war in 1865 and about 1877 (although the opinion varies) was a volatile time period that I’ve discussed here before.

Take a walk around the web and read about the battles between the Congress and President Johnson.  There’s much more to the story that deserves a post of its own.

The brief taste of voting rights for blacks, which beginning in 1870 ushered in the first wave of blacks to serve in the U.S. Congress would not last. Violence and intimidation increased against blacks who dared to vote. The Ku Klux Klan was born. After 1877, Democrats start to take back state legislatures and later re-wrote their constitutions with laws designed to circumvent the 15th amendment, but designed to strip blacks of the right to vote using grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests and other tactics. Supreme Court cases like Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 and the 1883 cases that overturned the Civil Rights Acts of 1875  all closed the door to black voting and led to the resurgence of white dominance over black lives. By 1900, southern blacks were almost completely wiped out of the electorate.

Some of the voting records created during Reconstruction survive.  Here are some of the voting records that I am aware of for the various states (not available for all counties):

Tennessee, 1891 Voter’s List. Available on Ancestry, gives election district, name, sometimes race, and age.

Alabama: 1867 Voter Registration. searchable online at the AL archives. Some of these include length of time in county. (also check Alabama’s 1866 state census)

http://www.archives.alabama.gov/voterreg/index.cfm

South Carolina: 1867-68 Voter Registrations available for some counties, Clarendon County is online (also check South Carolina’s 1869 state census and militia enrollment)

Georgia: 1867-69 Returns of Qualified Voters and Reconstruction Oath Books. Available on Ancestry.

Texas: 1867-1869 Voter Registration Lists. One of the best resources of its kind, these list how long the person has been in that county, in the state and what state they migrated from. Available on Ancestry. Someone posted a PDF of these records for Tyler County.

North Carolina: A book entitled “North Carolina Extant Voter Registrations of 1867,” by Frances Wynne lists records from 17 counties. This book is what led me to the Hyman discovery. Originals should be at the State Archives in Raleigh.

Louisiana: I find references to records available for New Orleans, but no info for other counties in Louisiana.

Mississippi: their records are strangely missing (?).

Virginia: Search by county in the Library of Virginia’s catalog, and search under the heading “Election records.” Some records exist, although many seem to be from the 1880s, 1890s.

Arkansas: The Arkansas Genealogical Society offers a “1867 Voter’s List” on CD for 25 counties.

Related to these records are the Poll Taxes that many southern states created to try to disenfranchise blacks. If they are available, they are also an excellent source to locate your ancestor between censuses. In one of my research counties, Hardin County, Tennessee, the tax collector wrote valuable notes beside each name like “dead,” too old,” or “gone.” These were found in county court minutes.

Some of these counties have voter registers through the 1880s and 1890s—be sure to check those as well. In various state archives, voting records are often “hiding” under Secretary of State Records. Also, check the online Family History Catalog for your state and county. They have a category called “Voting Registers.”

Please post a comment if you can add to the list above or have a story about how a voting record helped your research.

Note: Some of the richest records relating to the violence during Reconstruction, other than those found in Freedmens Bureau records, are the Congressional hearings that took place on the Ku Klux Klan the violence in places like Mississippi. You can read an excerpt here.

congressman

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beatrice_chair_fixed

Beatrice Prather

When I refer to an artifact, I am referring primarily to those items passed down within our families, or items we’ve dug up from family members during our quest.  Pictures are one kind of course, and family bibles, military papers, marriage and birth certificates, letters, deeds, and even quilts are things commonly found within families. I wanted to post some of the items I have gathered, both old and older, and show how each has expanded my understanding of my family and the communities in which they lived. The artifacts tell their own stories, and we should use them in the writing of our histories alongside the census and other records that we uncover. In many ways these are even more valuable because many of these can’t be found in public records or archives.

I’ve got a silver necklace my paternal grandmother gave me when I was probably about 16 (thank God I didn’t lose it). It had belonged to her mother Beatrice Prather and it came with a note that reminded me that it “was pure silver, and don’t be too proud when you wear it”;). Beatrice was an extremely well-educated woman to have been black (negro or colored in her era to be more accurate) and born in Maryland in 1888. I have several of her diplomas, including this one from Armstrong Manual Training School in Washington D.C. in 1910:
armstrong

The Armstrong school itself tells part of the story of black life in and around Washington D.C. at the turn of the century. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and graduated luminaries like Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstein.

My great-grandmother Beatrice was an educator, and also later a nurse and a beautician. I have a paper she wrote on “Negroes of Interest Born in the State of Maryland”:

Paper

Paper

Beatrice even wrote her own obituary (and yes, it was used):

Obituary

Obituary

In Tennessee, my maternal grandfather Luther Holt was a proud Union member and leader. I have his lifetime membership card from Local 801 International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, and my mom told me he was thrilled when Richard Nixon wrote him a letter congratulating him on his role in a crucial Union vote. I was excited recently to find a collection of the records of this local union at Wright State University along with a very concise introduction to its history. My grandfather was a retired Frigidaire worker, and when he retired he got more involved with the work of the union. I thought about granddaddy alot  during the recent Presidential elections and the debates about collective bargaining and the “battleground” states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Luther Holt

Luther Holt

Union Card

Union Card

Letter

Letter

My granddaddy also was an accomplished carpenter and woodworker who could build or fix anything. He made treasured handcarved gifts for his 3 daughters and his only granddaughter at the time (that would be me;)). This is a photo of the beautiful sewing box he made for my mom:

Sewing Box

Sewing Box

A cousin in Tennessee had some of the most amazing artifacts that his father, George W. Holt, had saved from his father and grandfather. These include receipts for paying the poll tax, one of the most pervasive tools in the Southern States used to disenfranchise black people and poor white people:

Poll Tax Receipt

Poll Tax Receipt

He also had a copy of his membership card in the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, popular in the black community especially in the 20th century:

Lodge Card

Lodge Card

There was also a receipt indicating payment of tuition for his 5 children in 1923 (although I wish the school was named):

Tuition Receipt

Tuition Receipt

George Holt’s records also contained a letter from “The Inter-Racial League of Tennessee,” addressed to Prof. Joe White from R.E. Clay illustrating the political prowess used to get a new school built in the community for black folks in the 1920’s. Interestingly enough, R.E. Clay was Robert E. Clay who led the Rosenwald School Fund in Tennessee, which is the very last topic I blogged about.:

League Letter

League Letter

 

 

 

All of these records speak to a family (the Holts) that was well-educated, landowning and upwardly mobile to say the least. That isn’t the case for all my lines; every one is different of course.

When I got the idea for this post, I didn’t realize how many terrific artifacts I’ve collected over the years regarding my family, so I’ll close now and leave more for ‘Part 2′. In the meantime, tell me about what artifacts you’ve found and what did they tell you about your family’s life?

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