From Juneteenth to a Fifteenth Amendment Celebration

By the late 19th century, Juneteenth – June 19th — had become recognized by blacks nationwide, to mark the final reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to the enslaved in Texas in 1865 – two years after Lincoln had made the proclamation; many enslavers refused to give up the enslaved.  But here in Sandy Spring, black residents as well celebrated another nationwide occasion: the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment.

After the Civil War, Congress heatedly debated the rights of the millions of formerly enslaved blacks. By 1869, amendments to the Constitution had been passed to abolish slavery and provide citizenship and equal protection under the laws, but the question of granting the black man the vote remained a contentious issue – stemming from the fear of Southern white men of being overwhelmed and thrown out of office by the black vote.

Finally, on February 26, 1869, Congress proposed an amendment to the Constitution banning voting-rights restrictions on the basis of race, color, or previous servitude (but still only for men). After surviving combative quarrels nationwide between pro-and anti-vote activists, the amendment was certified as duly ratified, becoming part of the Constitution on March 30, 1870.

Intimidation at the polls followed almost immediately, with death threats from white supremacists along with government-sanctioned artificial poll taxes and literacy tests specifically designed to suppress the black vote.  It would take nearly a century to fully enforce the rights embodied in the Fifteenth Amendment, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Still, accusations and evidence of voter suppression persist in America.

On October 11, 1900, the black residents of the Sandy Spring area came together to stage a vibrant procession, parading from Olney to Ashton and back again, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Horse-drawn floats traveled along today’s Route 108, displaying the skills of the various black tradesmen and women who daily contributed to the area’s livelihood and economy.  Floats created by black seamstresses and carpenters, blacksmiths, and produce farmers were enlivened by music along the parade route provided by black brass bands from the communities of Brookeville, Sandy Spring, and Brooke Grove.

Read an account of the Fifteenth Amendment anniversary celebration appearing in the Baltimore Sun, October 12, 1900:

Historically Black Communities of Sandy Spring has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

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