At least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting in 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law limiting the number of drop boxes for ballots; in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law banning 24-hour and drive-thru voting.
The laws came after record turnout in the 2020 election, including among African-American voters—and the Brennan Center’s research shows that the voter restrictions nationwide are more likely to impact African-American voters and minority voters.
Historians say that this wave of laws making it harder to vote echo the backlash to the electoral gains made by African Americans during Reconstruction (1865-1877), the era of political revolution in the aftermath of the Civil War. The above video looks back at Black politicians who served at all levels of government about a century before the 1960s civil rights movement.
“I think one of the reasons that it’s so timely to learn about Black political leaders during Reconstruction is because we have an unprecedented wave of new laws that are meant to suppress voters—specifically African-American voters—in some cases in order to ensure that African-American voices are not adequately heard in the political process,” says William Sturkey, associate professor of History at the University of North Carolina.
“Reconstruction was the first time that this country tried to be an interracial democracy—or a democracy, in other words,” says Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and expert on Reconstruction. “It was the first time that African-American men… became part of the body politic, voted, held office. And key issues that are on our agenda today were fought out for the first time in Reconstruction.”