This Day in History

March 30, 1870: Fifteenth Amendment

Time Periods: Reconstruction Period: 1865 - 1876
Themes: African American, Reconstruction, Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights
Thomas Mundy Peterson

Thomas Mundy Peterson wearing the medallion he was awarded by the citizens of Perth Amboy. Click for more info from NMAAHC. Source: Public Domain.

On March 30, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was formally adopted.

The following day, Thomas Mundy Peterson became the first African-American to participate in an election in a state where African Americans had not been allowed to vote before the 15th Amendment. He participated in a local election in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He later held political office and sat on a jury.

Decades later, the school where Peterson had worked as a custodian was renamed after him. This is just one of many stories from the Reconstruction Era that are missing from the textbooks. Note that,

On a per capita and absolute basis, more African Americans were elected to public office during the period from 1865 to 1880 than at any other time in U.S. history. These legislatures brought in programs of public benefit such as universal public education.

Over time, the amendment would be narrowly interpreted, allowing states to implement restrictions such as poll taxes and literacy tests that did not mention race by name, but effectively prevented most African Americans from voting.