History of Alabama - Disfranchisement and Origins of New South, 1876-1914

Disfranchisement and Origins of New South, 1876-1914

After 1874, the Democratic party had constant control of the state administration. The Republican Party by then was chiefly supported by African Americans. Republicans held no local or state offices, but the party did have some federal patronage. It failed to make nominations for office in 1878 and 1880 and endorsed the ticket of the Greenback party in 1882.

The development of mining and manufacturing was accompanied by economic distress among the farming classes, which found expression in the Jeffersonian Democratic party, organized in 1892. The regular Democratic ticket was elected and the new party was then merged into the Populist party. In 1894, the Republicans united with the Populists, elected three congressional representatives, secured control of many of the counties, but failed to carry the state. They continued their opposition with less success in the next campaigns. Partisanship became intense, and Democratic charges of corruption of the black electorate were matched by Republican and Populist accusations of fraud and violence by Democrats.

Despite opposition by Republicans and Populists, Democrats completed their dominance with passage of a new constitution in 1901 that restricted suffrage and effectively disfranchised African Americans. Its voter registration requirements also rapidly disfranchised tens of thousands of poor whites, an outcome the latter were not suspecting. From 1900 to 1903, the number of white registered voters fell by more than 40,000, from 232,821 to 191,492, despite a growth in population. By 1941 a total of more whites than blacks had been disfranchised: 600,000 whites to 520,000 blacks. This was due mostly to effects of the cumulative poll tax.

The damage to the African-American community was severe and pervasive, as nearly all its eligible citizens lost the ability to vote. In 1900 45% of Alabama's population were African American: 827,545 citizens. In 1900 fourteen Black Belt counties (which were primarily African American) had more than 79,000 voters on the rolls. By June 1, 1903, the number of registered voters had dropped to 1,081. While Dallas and Lowndes counties were each 75% black, between them only 103 African-American voters managed to register. In 1900 Alabama had more than 181,000 African Americans eligible to vote. By 1903 only 2,980 had managed to "qualify" to register, although at least 74,000 black voters were literate. The shut out was longlasting. It meant the effects of segregation suffered by African Americans were severe. At the end of WWII, for instance, in the black Collegeville community of Birmingham, only eleven voters in a population of 8,000 African Americans were deemed "eligible" to register to vote. Disfranchisement also meant that blacks and poor whites could not serve on juries, so were subject to a justice system in which they had no part.

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