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Tag Archives: constitutional convention

- “Irrespective of race or color:” African Americans and the Making of a New Virginia Constitution


The State Convention at Richmond, Va., in Session, with Willis A. Hodges in the center front, published in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, February 15, 1868.

On 17 April 1868, exactly seven years after a Virginia convention had voted to secede from the United States, another Virginia convention voted to approve a new constitution. For the first time in Virginia’s history, African American men participated in framing the state’s governing principles and laws.

The Library of Virginia’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography has recently completed a project to document the lives of these African American members of the convention, and their biographies are published online with our digital partner, Encyclopedia Virginia. These biographies (and many others) can be accessed through the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page or through Encyclopedia Virginia.

In 1867 Congress had required states of the former Confederacy (except Tennessee) to write

First Vote, from the cover of Harper's Weekly, November 16, 1867.

new constitutions before their senators and representatives could take their seats in Congress. On 22 October 1867, African American men voted for the first time in Virginia. In the election conducted by U.S. Army officers, voters answered two questions: whether to hold a convention to write a new constitution, and, if the convention referendum passed, who would represent them. Army officers recorded votes of white and black men separately, and some or all localities required voters to place their ballots in separate ballot boxes. Many white Virginians refused to participate in the election or were ineligible because they were former Confederates who had not taken an … read more »

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- Remaking Virginia: “To Secure Justice for Ourselves”




With the Civil War ended and slavery abolished, many African Americans believed that freedom should be much more than an absence of slavery. They believed it should include full rights and responsibilities of citizenship, including rights to personal liberty, property ownership, and participation in public life by voting and holding office. In the spring of 1865, African American men in Norfolk organized the Colored Monitor Union Club to demand full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote. “Give us the suffrage,” they asserted in an address published as Equal Suffrage: An Appeal from the Colored Citizens of Norfolk, Va., to the People of the United States (1865), “and you may rely upon us to secure justice for ourselves.” In Hampton, Richmond, and other communities, African American men organized political clubs for the same purpose. Most white Virginians opposed granting freedmen the right to vote.

By the end of 1865, Radical Republicans in Congress had become frustrated with the opposition of many white southerners to extending full rights of citizenship to African Americans. During the next three years Congress adopted a series of Reconstruction and civil rights laws imposing reforms on the Southern states. Early in 1867 Congress passed an act placing the Southern states under military rule and requiring them to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and to write new constitutions before they could be … read more »

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