February is a busy month for local, regional and national days of celebration. To name a few: Ground Hog Day, National Wear Red Day, Lincoln's Birthday, Valentine's Day, Susan B. Anthony's Birthday, Presidents' Day and Mari Gras dates. Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month. A time to recognize the roles and achievements of Black Americans in U.S. history.
In the autumn/winter of 2014 into January of 2015, with the help of Ms. Maggie Lovitt and her mom, Ms. Karen Lovitt, I was able to design and erect a Black History exhibit room, focusing when possible on the history of Black Americans in Orange County, Virginia. The exhibit room has three primary themes: A tribute to the Forgotten Patriots of the American Revolution, the Enslaved Period, and Post-Emancipation in Orange. This museum is fortunate to hold a surprisingly large and diverse collection of artifacts that helped put this exhibit room together.
Among the pieces in the Post-Emancipation section is a rather rough, easily-overlooked box that is actually an artifact from a hallmark moment in both Black and U.S. History. This box is the Barboursville District ballot box of 1870. If 1870 seems to be a familiar year in history it is because of the 15th Amendment. This amendment guaranteed the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
Throughout the month of February, 1870 the 15th Amendment underwent the ratification process. The House of Representatives passed the 15th Amendment on February 25, 1869, by a vote of 144 to 44. The Senate passed the 15th Amendment on February 26, 1869, by a vote of 39 to 13. Finally, on March 30, 1870 the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified and Secretary of State Hamilton Fish issued a ratification proclamation.
It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, almost a century, for the full promise of the 15th Amendment to be fully realized. The use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means were effective in discouraging and disenfranchising Black citizens to even attempt to register to vote.
The box was used until 1920 when another disenfranchised segment of our population, women, finally received the right to vote.
Small segment of the "Colored Voters Registration" book; sitting on top of the ballot box.
Other images from our Black History exhibit room:
Looking through the entry off of our Temporary Exhibits room....
A segment of our tribute to the Forgotten Patriots of the American Revolution...
All of our wall text/art was crafted by local Orange artist Todd Brown.
A bit of a look at our Enslaved Period section of the exhibit.