On the 141st anniversary of the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, theGrio reflects with iCue on the revolutionary bill giving blacks full citizenship and the right to vote.
After the Civil War, many states passed civil rights acts that granted the rights of citizenship to blacks. But some congressmen believed that unless there was federal protection, those state laws could be easily overturned. That’s why they proposed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
“Unlike the law of Dred Scott, which says that people of African descent whether they were slave or free can’t be citizens of the United States, now the Fourteenth Amendment says that everybody born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen of the United States and entitled to the equal protection of the laws,” said University of Pennsylvania Professor Steven Hahn.
The amendment also barred former members of Congress who had been loyal to the Confederacy from voting or holding public office. Most Southern states opposed the amendment and refused to ratify it, so Congress made its passage a requirement for states to be readmitted to the Union.
The right of citizenship came with other benefits for blacks. They could serve on juries and run for public office. They could also move freely around the country, assured that their rights would be protected in every state.
“The Fourteenth Amendment establishes finally the meaning of citizenship in the United States and the consistency of citizenship in the United States, meaning that the people born in the United States would be citizens, but also that the federal government would establish national citizenship,” said Professor Craig Wilder of Dartmouth College. “So someone born in Georgia and someone born in New York now had the same claim to the United States, the same claim to the government of the United States.”