Voting History: The 15th Amendment

By Tanner Probst

Ida B. Wells

“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.”

-15th Amendment


If you’re like me, a high school teacher taught you this amendment and told you it granted former slaves the right to vote. This is great, but it doesn’t capture the complicated, sometimes heart-breaking, often inspiring truth of what actually happened. What were the stories surrounding its ratification — the emotions, experiences, and decisions voters felt and made back in 1870? The website History.com brings to life this and many other events from a vivid period of fascinating and thought-provoking moments.


One such story is of Ida B. Wells. Her life puts our societal problems in perspective, and, despite the deeply ingrained problems we still must fight, she shows us the great progress we have made as a country through voicing our beliefs and voting. Wells was born a slave in Mississippi, freed at a young age by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, left alone by the Yellow Fever that killed her parents and brother, she was witness to a slew of lynchings in her new home in Tennessee. Stirred by her sorrowful beginnings, she turned to writing to push for equality. She started a newspaper and published compelling pieces such as Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all Its Phases” urging those not directly affected by the horrors of racism to let their voices be heard, too.