Voting rights were a hot topic on election day in Minnesota one hundred and fifty years ago. In 1868, Minnesota’s Republican party focused its political strategy on access to the polls. But in this case, the party of Lincoln was pushing to enfranchise African-American males. William Green, Augsburg history professor, scholar and author on Civil Rights in Minnesota in the 19th century, describes how Republican candidates told their constituents that “a vote for black suffrage was a vote for him, for the Union, and the memory of Abraham Lincoln, their martyred leader.”

After the ballot question won in November of 1868, it became law in 1869 and Republicans and newly empowered Black voters celebrated with a grand event.

After failing in two previous efforts, the state’s ruling party won the right to vote for Black men and, in doing so, improved their own political lot.

African American barber Maurice Jernigan was one of the founders of the seminal Civil Rights group the ‘Sons of Freedom’ who lobbied for the enfranchisement.

A century and a half later, access to the polls and voting rights is, again, at the center of partisan politics. The party of Lincoln’s take on voting rights might be described as a 180 from 1868.  Reflecting on the state’s political profile and legacy might offers up curious context for Minnesotans of all political persuasions.

The Bloody Sunday March in Selma was focused on voting rights.


This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.