The first election after the Civil War was a historic moment

Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 3:54 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - When the Civil War ended and slaves were freed, the first election in Virginia in 1867 was for a new state constitution, one that would recognize the freedom of the slaves.

As elections go, it was unusual. The first since the end of the Civil War.

“There are only two questions on the ballot: should we have at the state level a constitutional convention, yes or no, and second if so, what delegates do you choose,” said researcher Larry Spurgeon. “And there were four candidates.”

Around a thousand Black men showed up in Rockbridge County to cast their ballots.

“To think what that must have been like for them as the Richmond newspaper described, as they poured into town all day to vote,” Spurgeon said. “And if I may, there’s a wonderful quote, the Richmond newspaper reporter said: they laid aside the shovel and hoe to commemorate their elevation to the dignity of voters.”

“It is definitely a moment, and a founding moment,” said Eric Wilson, the Rockbridge Historical Society’s Executive Director, “and surely must have been filled with excitement as well as uncertainties.”

“91 percent of the Black men who registered voted,” said Spurgeon, “which was double what the white ratio of registered voters. It was very high. It was higher than the state average even.”

And the roster provides a useful window into who the African American residents of Rockbridge County were back then.

“To see that list of names, that nearly thousand list of names that you could go through and find one that maybe you could connect here,” Wilson said, “or that sounds like the father of so and so.”

“By the way,” said Spurgeon, “some of them were in their 70s, perhaps 80s, born in the 18th Century, and here they are free and now voting. Must have been remarkable.”

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