Little Known Black History Fact: Virginia’s Black Delegates (audio)

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  • For a short time following the Civil War, African-Americans in the state of Virginia were granted the right to run for office and vote for delegates under the new reconstruction law. Freed slaves in Hampton lined up from sun-up to sundown at the polls to vote. In 1867, 92 percent of eligible freed blacks voted that year for the 24 black delegates on the ballot. Only 66 percent of the voters were white.

    The diversity of the delegates was surprising for the time period. There were 17 farmers, 16 ministers, 9 shoemakers, 8 teachers, 6 lawyers, 3 blacksmiths, 2 brickmasons and a boatman. One of the delegates was Haitian and bilingual.

    Many of the voting practices we use today were established during the time that black delegates pressed to change the rules. Those include voting by secret ballot, which eliminated oral voting. Back then, voter intimidation was strongly discouraged. Interestingly, the first arguments were raised for racially integrated school systems in the state of Virginia.

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