Using Original Resources

Original manuscripts and documents are windows to the past. They offer a source of information for interpreting how people responded to the events taking place around them. Following are brief accounts of five individuals who were affected by a variety of issues surrounding the right of Blacks to vote. Using the time line in Moments in Black History, identify the events that took place during each person’s lifetime which may have affected their ideas about voting. In the biographical sketches below, click on the document or original manuscript created by each individual to find out more information about their ideas on voting and voting rights. [HINT: key words are in bold italic].


Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) graduated from Howard Law School in 1870 and is considered the first Black
woman lawyer in the United States. As a political activist, Cary challenged the U.S. House of Representatives for the right to vote and won. During Reconstruction, she was one of a few women who voted in federal elections. In a speech before the Judiciary Committee, she campaigned for the right of women to vote. Document: Excerpt of speech, n.d., from the Mary Ann Shcadd Cary Papers, MSRC.

Pinckney Benton Steward Pinchback (1837-1921) was an active participant in the development of Reconstruction policies, having been elected Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in 1871 and having served briefly as Governor before being elected to the U.S. Senate. He made numerous personal appeals to the U.S. Senate to correct the injustices in the Louisiana political process. Document: Voter Registration Form of P.B.S. Pinchback, 1867, from the Pinckney Benton Steward Pinchback Papers, MSRC.

Archibald Henry Grimké (1849-1930) was a lawyer, editor, author and civil rights leader. He received a law degree from Harvard University in 1874 but turned to politics and journalism in the early 1880s. Grimké involved himself in the Black struggle for most of his life. During the early 20th Century, while serving as president of the American Negro Academy, he wrote numerous pamphlets challenging Blacks to use the vote wisely. Document: What a Colored Man Should do to Vote, pamphlet, n.d.], from the Archibald Grimké Papers, MSRC.

Alain Leroy Locke (1885-1954) was a philosopher, educator and critic. He was the first Black Rhodes Scholar. Through his numerous writings on Black culture, Locke became the principal spokesman for what was called "The New Negro Movement" of the 1920s. He was involved in numerous activities and enjoyed a variety of interests throughout his life, including the causes of the Progressive Era. During Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, Locke commented on where the Black vote should go. DOCUMENT: [The New Negro Vote and the New Deal], Oct, 1936, from the Alain Leroy Locke Papers, MSRC.

Wiley Austin Branton (1923-1988) was a lawyer and civil rights activist. He was chief counsel for the Little Rock Nine, a member of the Southern Regional Council, and had an active law practice in Pine Bluff, Arkansas from 1952 to 1962. Branton accepted the position as the first director of the Voter Education Project in 1962. He served as Dean of the Howard University Law School from 1978-1983. DOCUMENT: Excerpt of interview with James Mosby, 1969 January 16, from The Civil Rights Documentation Project, MSRC.

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November 1999