Political enthusiasts are well aware of the tumultuous relationship that exists between black voters and politicians. African Americans’ right to vote did not become federally protected until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, despite gaining the right to vote 95 years prior.

While legislation during the civil rights era was a step in the right direction, many blacks still questioned the efficacy of a biased political system and remained skeptical of the political process in general. The scars sustained from the long history of state and local jurisdictions’ circumvention of the 15th Amendment, specifically through poll taxes, literacy tests, and violent acts of intimidation were still in the forefront of many African Americans’ minds.


These heinous acts disproportionately targeted African American voters, often securing elections in favor of candidates who openly abhorred black suffrage. The Colfax massacre, as well as the deaths of Medgar Evers, and Harry and Harriette Moore are examples of voter suppression run amok, which shed light on the extreme lengths opponents of black suffrage were willing to go to discourage voting.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 didn't eradicate racial tensions overnight, and many wondered how the federal law would be enforced.

As African Americans’ safety and civil rights hung in the balance, many blacks chose to remain on the political sidelines for years to come, even after the Johnson administration’s landmark achievements. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, African American voter turnout rates would not begin to rise steadily until the mid ‘90s.

The Clinton Years

Prior to the Obama years, the Clinton administration boasts the most diverse administration in American history. Bill Clinton effectively cracked the political glass ceiling for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, women, and persons with disabilities.


It also emboldened the African American community to participate in the political process in greater numbers at the federal, state and local levels. Clinton appointed a total of seven black cabinet members during his tenure, and more African American federal judges than his three predecessors combined. Prior to the Clinton administration, African American political appointments were scarce, and thus, many blacks credit him as a champion of civil rights who made good on the legislation of the Johnson presidency.

Presidential Election 2016

Republican candidates have all but conceded the black vote, calculating that it would be ineffective to focus resources on this Democratic voting bloc. Given Hillary Clinton’s obvious connection to Bill Clinton, many blacks feel inclined to support her candidacy. Essentially, a vote for Hillary is a nod to Bill’s legacy - a legacy many blacks embrace. Hillary often points to her husband’s diverse administration and the economic boom blacks enjoyed during the ‘90s. She doesn’t mention however, the scandals, increased incarceration rates of African Americans during the Clinton Administration, or the welfare reform bill that according to Michelle Alexander, “decimated black America.” Despite public opinion, black voters are torn when it comes to supporting the Clintons, which is evidenced by the competing black endorsements both Democratic candidates have received.


Ironically, the constituency that was oppressed, suppressed, and ignored for the greater part of American history, is  actively being courted in this critical election. Hillary Clinton has a considerable advantage among African American voters, in large part due to name recognition and her many references to “the glory years,” but there is certainly ground to be gained. A winning coalition will be difficult to amass without securing the greatest number of black voters, and the candidate that does so, will potentially secure the presidency.