BOOK EXPLORES THE PROCESS AND IMPACT OF DISFRANCHISEMENT
During the 2000 presidential election, thousands of Southern voters were turned away and countless ballots thrown out-most of them African-American. Exactly a century ago, in the winter of 1900-01, the movement to eliminate African-Americans from Southern politics reached its climax. As a result, virtually all African-Americans were deprived of the voting rights they possessed since Reconstruction.
A new book by a University of Illinois at Chicago historian offers the most complete and systematic study to date of the history of disfranchisement in the South. The book, "Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South 1888-1908" (University of North Carolina Press), by Michael Perman, research professor in the humanities, identifies patterns and connections that have previously gone unnoticed.
After examining the origins and objectives of disfranchisement, Perman traces the process as it unfolds state by state. Next, Perman explores the federal government's apparent consent in disenfranchisement, the relationship between disfranchisement and segregation and the political system that emerged after the decline of the South's electorate.
"Disfranchisement eliminated millions of voters and thereby produced an electoral system unprecedented in American history-a highly restricted electorate dominated by just one party," said Perman. "In effect, Southern politics became exclusively white and would remain so until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the electoral changes it produced."
Perman's findings strongly suggest that the aim of the disfranchisement a century ago was not simply an attempt to frustrate voters by tampering with ballots at election time. Instead, Southern states intended to remove all African-American voters by establishing voting requirements that they knew blacks could not meet.
"The primary target of this ruthless campaign was the African-American voter," said Perman. "They intended to remove blacks from the political system by formal, legal means, not merely by stealing their votes."
Perman is also the author of "Emancipation and Reconstruction, 1862-1879" and the award winning "Road to Redemption: Southern Politics, 1869-1879."
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