Elijah Cummings Said Democrats Gave Black People the Right to Vote?

A meme claiming Rep. Elijah Cummings misattributed responsibility for the 15th Amendment during his 2016 DNC speech was mostly inaccurate itself.

  • Published 27 July 2016
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Claim

Rep. Elijah Cummings incorrectly stated during his 2016 DNC speech that Democrats gave black people the right to vote.

"Elijah Cummings just told the world that the Democrats were responsible for giving Blacks the rights to vote." Passage of the 15th Amendment (right to vote) states differently. Did Elijah Cummings actually make that statement? elijah cummings DNC speech

Collected via e-mail, July 2016

Rating

Mostly False
About this rating

What's True

The 15th Amendment was predominantly supported by Republicans in 1869 and rejected by Democrats.

What's False

Rep. Elijah Cummings explicitly claimed otherwise in his 2016 DNC Speech.

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Origin

Around 25 July 2016, various versions of the claim reproduced above began circulating, suggesting that Representative Elijah Cummings incorrectly stated Democrats were responsible for giving black people the right to vote during his 2016 Democratic National Convention speech:

 

The portion most in line with the meme included the following remarks:

It was our Democratic party that pushed open the opportunities for me and millions of children across this great country. It was our party that fought for head start and good schools. And made college affordable and championed affirmative actions and school desegregation, that passed Social Security and Medicare, that fought for veterans back home, that fought for the rights of workers and made the dream of home ownership possible for millions of american families. Yes, it still is our Democratic party. Civil rights and voting rights — and voting rights. As we democrats — it is we Democrats who fully understand when you take away a person’s right to vote, you take away their ability to shape their own destiny. And it was and it is our democratic party that fights for women’s rights, gay rights, the LGBTQ rights. Our party understands that black lives matter.

Cummings’ quote was ambiguous, but he appeared to say that the Democrats “fought” for civil rights and voting rights, a fairly open-ended statement. Many critics held that Cummings’ statement was incorrect based on historical fact:

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution granted African American men the right to vote by declaring that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Although ratified on February 3, 1870, the promise of the 15th Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote.

The meme reproduced above stated that 141 Republicans voted to approve the 15th Amendment, with zero Democrats in favor, 39 no votes, and seven abstentions. According to the Library of Congress the vote was as follows:

The House of Representatives passed the 15th Amendment on February 25, 1869, by a vote of 144 to 44

The Senate passed the 15th Amendment on February 26, 1869, by a vote of 39 to 13.

The text of the 15th Amendment can be found in the United States Statutes at Large, volume 16, page 346 (15 Stat. 346).
Secretary of State Hamilton Fish issued a proclamation certifying the ratification of the 15th Amendment by the states on March 30, 1870.

A detailed tally of Senate Vote #586 in January 1869 indicated support by Republicans with 33 “yea” votes, and zero for Democrats:

15 amendment votes

While the meme was close to accurate in providing tallies by party for votes on the 15th amendment, it was less so with Cummings’ remarks. Putting aside the fact it did not mention any changes in party dynamics between the 1940s and 1970s [PDF], it also misconstrued Cummings’ statements to suggest that he incorrectly attributed the 15th amendment specifically to Democrats and not Republicans.