The Declaration of Independence of the United States was ratified on July 4, 1776. It begins with this phrase: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Many of the men who signed that statement were themselves slave owners. This contradiction between actuality and aspirations may be ascribed to hypocrisy, to a societally ingrained belief that dark-skinned Africans were less human, or to a simple reflection of the reality of that era. In any event, it clearly delineates that not all were seen or treated as equals…not in 1776, and still not in the United States today.
A dark-skinned person was thereby counted as three-fifths of a white person. Voting rights evolved over the years. At first, each state was able to determine its own voters. Those voters were generally white male landowners or white men with equivalent personal property. Free Negroes were initially allowed to vote in several northern states, but those rights were lost in the first part of the 19th century.
Property rights requirements for men were gradually eliminated, state by state, a process that was completed in 1856. In 1868, following the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” but it would take the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 to establish: “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.”
Women were allowed to vote in the Wyoming Territory
When Wyoming applied to become a state, Congress demanded that that right to vote be rescinded. Wyoming’s famous answer: “We will remain out of the union one hundred years rather than come in without the women.” When the Wyoming, Utah, and Washington territories, which allowed women to vote, became states, their women retained that right.
We have a significant history of incorporating inequality in our government, and into our laws. Legislation to prevent Chinese immigration, and to prevent Chinese residents from becoming citizens, was in effect from 1882 until 1943.
In the 1920s, using arguments based on specious eugenics, which declared the inferiority of Jews, Italians, and other immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, new legislation imposed strict quotas on immigration from those regions; many of those laws and regulations lasted until 1965.
Homeownership and education have long been seen as ways for Americans to begin to build a solid financial base for their families. However, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), established in 1934, furthered governmental support of segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African American neighborhoods — a policy known as “redlining.” At the same time, the FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass-producing entire subdivisions for whites — with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African Americans.
The GI Bill, passed after World War II as a way to enable returning troops to catch up in the economy for their time in service, provided education and housing and unemployment benefits — but it was not uniformly applied. For example,
• Black veterans in a vocational training program at a segregated high school in Indianapolis were unable to participate in activities related to plumbing, electricity, and printing because adequate equipment was only available to white students. At the college level, 95% of black veterans were shunted off to black colleges.
• Only two of the more than 3,200 VA-guaranteed home loans in 13 Mississippi cities in 1947 went to black borrowers. In New York and the northern New Jersey suburbs, fewer than 100 of the 67,000 mortgages insured by the GI Bill supported home purchases by non-whites.
And things are still unequal. In 2018, black and Asian applicants in Camden, New Jersey, were respectively 2.6 and 1.8 times more likely than whites to be denied home loans, even after adjustments for income, loan amount, and neighborhood.
Thomas Hofeller, the key 21st century Republican strategist on political mapping, conducted dozens of intensely detailed studies of North Carolina college students broken down by race, and then evaluated his data to determine whether these students were likely voters. Based on his findings, the gerrymandered congressional-district line in Greensboro, North Carolina, cuts A&T State University, the nation’s largest historically black college, in half. The district line divided this campus — and the city — so precisely that it all but guaranteed that the area would be represented in Congress by two Republicans for years to come. In October 2019, a North Carolina state court found this districting so egregious that it set aside the district lines drawn, sending the process back to be repaired.