The Grandfather Clause (1915)

The Grandfather Clause (1915)

The white southern oligarchy is laughing silently behind its hand. Two decades’ years ago it faced a dilemma. A wretched Negro public school system (which has since grown worse in most southern states) made it easy to disfranchise the mass of the Negro voters by a literacy test. But how about the 100,000 southern white voters who could not read and write? To cajole these the oligarchy, with a smile, concocted the celebrated “Grandfather clause,” impudently establishing hereditary privilege in this republic. They did not expect the scheme to work. It was a “gold brick” pure and simple for inducing the ignorant white laborer to destroy the black labor vote and leave himself so much the more at the mercy of the capitalist. To the amazement of the white South itself this illegal, undemocratic and outrageous provision has actually been allowed to stand on the statute books and be enforced for SEVENTEEN YEARS!

Finally, when further evasion of the issues involved was humanly almost impossible, the Supreme Court solemnly declares a law unconstitutional which has already been in force a half a generation.

Considering, however, the inexcusable blows delivered on the body of the prostrate black man by the Supreme Court from the Dred Scott case, of infamous memory, to the emasculating of the Fourteenth Amendment, the civil rights cases and the “Jim-Crow” decisions of our day, we have cause to rejoice at the overthrow of the “Grandfather Clause.”

But there is much more than this in the late decision and the Bourbon South would do well to laugh neither loud nor too long. The Supreme Court has confirmed the validity of the Fifteenth Amendment. It has declared that Negroes have a right to vote on the same terms as other citizens. This is a blow at all race discrimination in politics. This will not give us our rights immediately but it puts us in the shadow of the mightiest advance since 1863.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1915. “The Grandfather Clause.” The Crisis. 10(5):231–232.