After the Civil War, African American men gained the right to vote. By the late 1800s, they formed a large percentage of the voters in Williamsburg and James City County, strongly supporting the Republican Party. Several won election to public office, with Daniel Norton and the Rev. John Dawson serving in the General Assembly, barber John Cary on the city council, and merchant Samuel Harris on the school board. Throughout the South, however, white Democrats regained power in the late 1800s and found ways to deny people of color the right to vote despite the Fifteenth Amendment. In Virginia, the constitution of 1902 capped efforts to disfranchise black voters through poll taxes and literacy tests. As a result, the number of registered black voters in Williamsburg fell from 192 to 36.
Even as most African-American men lost the right to vote, women suffragists campaigned to gain that right. The 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, granted women the right to vote. As seen in the voter lists below, white women eagerly paid their poll taxes and registered to vote as the 1920 presidential election approached. Politicians began trying to appeal to the new voters.1
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- Progress Comes to Williamsburg from the exhibit "A Most Thriving & Growing Place": Williamsburg Before the Restoration.