Posted in Black History

Maryland Governor Vows to Disenfranchise Black Voters

On January 8, 1908, newly elected Governor Austin Crothers, a former judge, prosecutor, and state senator, declared it his administration’s “high and momentous obligation” to “eliminate the illiterate and irresponsible” Black voters from Maryland’s electorate.

Governor Crothers expressed his administration’s commitment to “secure and safeguard” the right to vote “in the hands of our white citizens, both native and naturalized.” He characterized the Fifteenth Amendment as an impediment to white supremacy and a constraint that his administration must evade in order to preserve an all-white electorate. “Let us execute unflinchingly the purpose of [our] pledge by all lawful and constitutional means to maintain the political supremacy of the white race in Maryland,” he declared.

Governor Crothers advocated for a racially targeted disenfranchisement plan. He sought to dispense with existing laws restricting the right to vote, such as literacy tests and strict rules for ballot-marking, because even though these provisions were designed to disenfranchise Black people, they unintentionally disenfranchised some white Marylanders as well. Governor Crothers explained that lawmakers enacted these provisions “to restrict the evils of a large body of unreflecting” Black voters but that, “unfortunately, [they have] entailed much inconvenience to many of our white voters.”

During his first month in office, Governor Crothers coordinated with white Maryland legislators to draft a constitutional amendment that categorically disenfranchised almost all Black people while preserving the right of all white citizens to vote. The proposed amendment imposed hereditary, property ownership, and education-based qualifications that would have disenfranchised the majority of Maryland’s Black population. The Colored Voters Suffrage League of Maryland formally opposed the legislation, asking the Governor and legislature, “if the franchise is so essential to white men, who have at hand every conceivable social and economic opportunity,” why was it less essential to Black voters who have suffered “centuries of oppression?”

While Maryland’s electorate ultimately rejected the statewide amendment, individual municipalities—including Maryland’s capital, Annapolis—adopted legislation that mirrored the Crothers plan, restricting the right to vote to individuals owning over $500 in property, naturalized citizens, and descendants of white men authorized to vote prior to 1868. This resulted in the disenfranchisement of thousands of Black citizens of Maryland.

To learn more about millions of Americans’ commitment to racial segregation and inequality, read the Equal Justice Initiative’s report, Segregation in America.


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