Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1895


In the 1892 gubernatorial election, Benjamin “Pitchfork' Tillman gathered much support from the growing number of poor farmers and was successfully re-elected, despite the fact that opposing candidates attempted to push blacks to the poles to vote against Tillman. Once his two year term as governor ended, Tillman was elected to the United States Senate in 1894. After having nearly lost the governors race due to the black vote, Tillman feared that blacks could take control of the split white state senate, and thus urged the state to draft a new constitution to disenfranchise African-Americans.


On September 10, 1895, Senator Tillman got his wish as Secretary of State Tompkins and Governor Evans called the state's delegates to the State Capital in Columbia to draft a new South Carolina Constitution. Although many changes were made during the three month period, the most significant changes centered on the right to vote. In order to vote under the new constitution, a person must own at least 300 dollars worth of property, pass a literacy test, and pay a poll tax 6 months before elections, The constitution also prohibited all citizens that were convicted of bigamy, burglary, arson, robbery from voting because the delegates thought that these crimes were mainly committed by African-Americans. All of these new voting regulations effectively disenfranchised the entire African American population in South Carolina. The black population was further penalized as the state established segregated schools and barred interracial marriages. In addition, Cora S. Lott appealed to the delegates to extend suffrage to women, but the motion gained little support. The delegates did, on the other hand, give women the right to own and control property.


The Constitution of 1895, which was ratified on December 4, 1895, essentially laid the ground work for Jim Crow in South Carolina, since almost the entire African American population was disenfranchised, which further strengthen the white control over the state of South Carolina. The disenfranchisement and Jim Crow laws continued to thrive in the state until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. (source: History Engine)

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