NORMAN — To kick off the Cleveland County Bar Association’s annual Law Day event, chairman Don Pope began with an experiment with attendees.
“If I could get everybody to stand up please,” Pope said. Then he began asking everyone under the age of 21 to sit down, then for all the ladies to sit down and lastly for all non-property owners to sit down.
“I’m just taking you back to 1776. The people that are still standing can vote. The people that are sitting down cannot,” he said, adding that people of color and indigenous people could not vote at the time, either.
The Law Day theme this year is “Democracy and You: Why Every Vote Counts.” In conjunction with that, OU law school professor Rick Tepker discussed the evolution of voting rights.
Tepker talked about a speech President Abraham Lincoln made after the Civil War, that didn’t tout victory but rather talked about the reconstruction of constitutional law.
One taboo topic at the time that Lincoln talked about was how there was no right to vote for African Americans.
“At that time, it was near political suicide,” Tepker said. “(Lincoln) said, ‘The men who fought for the Union deserve a right to vote.’ He’d believed that for a couple years now, but he only said it privately up to that moment. That is the first moment when an American president endorsed extending the vote beyond the limits of the white race, and that sparked an exploding of idealism.”
However, even after the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, the Supreme Court did not do its job, Tepker said. The Supreme Court told the states they could not deny colored people the right to vote, but they could do other things to prevent them.
After that, literacy tests had to be taken before people could vote and a grandfather clause was made to allow illiterate, white property owners to continue to vote.