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Celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment

  • Lithograph Celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment, 1870
Published in 1870, this lithograph celebrates the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, as well as the hopes of African Americans to enjoy fully their new citizenship rights.
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    The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, October 8, 1869
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    Lithograph Showing Blanche Kelso Bruce, Frederick Douglass, and Hiram Rhodes Revels, 1881
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Lithograph Celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment, 1870

Emancipation did not resolve all the issues facing people of African descent in America. Even after the end of slavery, African Americans and their supporters worked to define and protect the rights to which they were entitled. The pressing need for better constitutional protection for African Americans arose in the years immediately after emancipation, when many southern states enacted black laws that were designed to keep freed blacks in a position very close to slavery. To address the problem, Republican leaders in Congress initiated a number of provisions better to protect the rights of freedpeople.

The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, established the formerly enslaved as citizens of the United States, entitled to the protections provided by the nation's Constitution. The next question was the issue of participating in the American democracy. The Fifteenth Amendment, passed in Congress in February 1869, gave voting rights to African American men and was intended to help black men partake in the democratic process by seeking and holding elected office, and then helping to make and enforce the laws of the land. Ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment was a precondition for some former Confederate states—Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, and Georgia— to be readmitted to the Union. After ratification by three-fourths of the states, the amendment was certified as a part of the U.S. Constitution on March 30, 1870.

This lithograph contains seventeen separate images. The images range from specific, notable political leaders and historical figures, to representative images about African American life. At the top of the image are three African American leaders, Martin Robison Delany, the first African American commissioned field officer in the U. S. Army and the "father of black nationalism;" Frederick Douglass, famed abolitionist and the best-known African American leader of his day; and Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate. At opposite corners at the top of the image are Ulysses S. Grant, then president of the United States, and Schuyler Colfax, then the vice president. Lower in the image are Abraham Lincoln, enshrined by many as the “Great Emancipator,” and John Brown, radical abolitionist, depicted as a hero for his famous raid on Harpers Ferry in October 1859.

The other vignettes in the lithograph depict various aspects of African American life after slavery—education, farming, and fraternities, as well as religious, family, and military life. These images speak to the hopes and desires of African Americans for self-determination and advancement through full inclusion in American society, and their ability to pursue, unimpeded, their own American dreams. The central image shows a massive parade that took place on May 19, 1870, in Baltimore, Maryland, celebrating the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment.

This image is one of at least four similar prints that depicted the parade in Baltimore. Lithography is a printing process, developed late in the eighteenth century, that used grease and ink on stone to make images. Executed by Thomas Kelly of New York City, after a lithograph by James C. Beard, the image is unusual because it features African Americans at the top of the image.

For Educators


1. Who are the people shown in this lithograph? Why were they chosen to be included?

2. What are the other scenes in the image intended to demonstrate? Which ones are most closely connected to the right to vote?

Further Discussion

1. Assign a student or group a single vignette to study. Have them write about the historical significance of each, as it relates to the history of African American political life in the United States.

2. Compare the Kelly and Beard image to other similar renditions commemorating the same event (four other images can be found at the “Celebrating Rights and Responsibility” Web site: ). What differences between the images do you notice? What is the same? What is different? Why might the artists have chosen to feature some individuals and activities over others?

3. The centerpiece of this image is the parade that took place in Baltimore on May 29, 1870. Study the scene in the images, particularly the participants, the location, and the onlookers. Consider the significance of parades and demonstrations in American public life. What is the significance of this particular parade as it relates to African Americans?


Invented in 1798, and in wide use by the 1830s, lithography is a process that allows artists to work directly with a medium to reproduce high-quality images. The basic concept is that grease repels water. In the lithography process, artists sketch their images onto a stone surface, coat the image area with grease, and the entire surface with water. During the printing process, the grease attracts ink. Paper is then pressed against the stone, and the ink is transferred to the paper. Color lithography uses repeated printing using individual colored inks to produce the final image. The Fifteenth Amendment lithograph has been colored by hand.


"Black Voting Rights: The Creation of the 15th Amendment." Harp Week: Explore History

Library of Congress Bibliographic Information-15th Amendment. Celebrated May 19th 1870

"Celebrating Rights and Responsibility," Baltimore & the Fifteenth Amendment, May 19, 1870

Linking to Our Past, Virginia Historical Society

Video on Lithography: Printmaking Processes: Lithography

Suggested Reading

Lowe, Richard. Republicans and Reconstruction in Virginia, 1856–70. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.

PUBLISHED & PRINTED BY Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1870 by Th. Kelly in the Office of the Librarian of congress at Washington D.C.  THOMAS KELLY 17 BARCLAY ST. N.Y.
1. Reading Emancipation Proclamation
2. Life Liberty and Independence
3. We Unite the Bonds of Fellowship
4. Our Charter of Rights the Holy Scriptures

5. Education will prove the Equality of the Races
6. Liberty Protects the Mar[r]iage Alt[a]r
7. Celebration of Fifteenth Amendment May 19th 1870
8. The Ballot Box is open to us

9. Our representative Sits in the National Legislature
10. The Holy Ordinances of Religion are free
11. Freedom unites the Family Circle
12. We will protect our Country as it defends our Rights

13. We till our own Fields
14. The Right of Citizens of the U.S. to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the U.S. or any State on account of Race Color or Condition of Servitude 15th Amendment