Witnessing the Dawn of Black Voting: A Tale of Two Political Revolutions

October 21, 2020

As we untangle the complexities of modern voting, consider the even more fraught-process of the “viva voce” process, where each vote was publicly made, possibly out loud, and possibly in front of a dangerous crowd. Political historian, IATH collaborator, and Virginia Humanities Fellow Don DeBats has been collaborating with IATH on Voting Viva Voce: Unlocking the Social Logic of Past Politics, which is examining the political, racial, economic, and historical facets of the public voting process that predominated through much of U.S. history, specifically in 1860 Alexandria, VA, and 1870 Newport, KY.

Professor DeBats will be discussing his research with a group of scholars at Witnessing the Dawn of Black Voting: A Tale of Two Political Revolutions, a webinar offered as a special election-season Fellows talk from Virginia Humanities. The event is being held on Tuesday, October 27, at 6pm and will feature Professor DeBats, project manager and election scholar Sarah John, and historians David Childs, Patrick Lewis, Charles R. Welsko, and Julie Scoskie and Scott Scarboro of the Filson Historical Society. The conversation will be moderated by Justin Reid, director of Virginia Humanities’ Community Initiatives.

Participants in the live event will be able to ask questions and listen to the startling results learned by analyzing existing poll books in two Kentucky counties from 1870 elections, when African American men first gained the right to vote. In Kentucky, and only in Kentucky, did African American men vote in a system requiring each voter to announce aloud his electoral choices. Records from these viva voce elections make it possible to examine this remarkable event.

This webinar will be free, and will be available both live and recorded. Registration is required for the live event: please register via the event page.