By Eddie Davis
Special to the New Journal and Guide
February 3, 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment guaranteed the right to vote for men who had been enslaved in Virginia and in other states of the nation.
The calendar year of 2020 also marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Additionally, this year marks the 55th anniversary of Voting Rights Act, which, by Congressional and Presidential authority, removed many of the then-existing barriers that had been utilized to prevent African-Americans for having the full exercise of the ballot.
As we commemorate these anniversaries, it is extremely important to recognize a vital meeting that was held in Norfolk in 1865.
According to Dickinson University, Dr. Thomas Bayne, an enslaved dental assistant, who escaped from Norfolk via the waterways portion of the Underground Railroad, established himself in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
“At the end of the Civil War, Bayne returned to Norfolk, Virginia, to rejoin his family. He immediately became involved in politics, and in May 1865 he chaired a public meeting at which the participants passed eight civil rights resolutions under the title of Equal Suffrage: Address from the Colored Citizens of Norfolk, Virginia to the People of the United States. These resolutions pledged Virginia’s loyalty to the Union, decried race discrimination as abhorrent to ‘patriotism, humanity, and religion,’ and demanded equal suffrage for Black and white Americans. As a member of a committee that testified on behalf of rights for freedmen, Bayne appeared before O. O. Howard of the Freedmen’s Bureau in December 1865.”As we look back on the 15th Amendment, other movements, and other documents that have led to more equity and inclusion in our voting history, it is important to salute the dedicated work that was put forth by Dr. Thomas Bayne; Rev. John Brown of the AME church on Bute Street; Rev. Thomas Henson of the Baptist Church on Catherine Street; and other “colored citizens” who lived in Norfolk in 1865.
These courageous folks helped to lay the foundation and provide the vision for many of the rights that we enjoy today. Let’s remember them during the year of 2020 and beyond.
Eddie Davis, a native of Elizabeth City, NC, is a retired educator and recently served as the Public Historian for the City of Durham, N.C.