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IN 1880 IN OCALA, FLORIDA, AN AFRICAN AMERICAN MAN NAMED Cuffie Washington tried to vote in the congressional election. When he entered the polling station, Democrats challenged his fight to vote because, they said, he had stolen three oranges. Washington conceded that he had been convicted of such a crime about a month before the election. Such charges, he said, had become more frequent "because the election was close on hand." (1) Like Washington, several other African American men in the county were disfranchised that day for having stolen a gold button, a case of oranges, hogs, oats, six fish (worth twelve cents), and a cowhide. Allen Green, one of the alleged hog thieves confirmed Washington's analysis, agreeing that petit larceny charges had increased prior to the election: "It was a pretty general thing to convict colored men in that precinct just before an election; they had more cases about election time than at any other time." (2) For white Democrats seeking to regain political power in the South after Reconstruction, these events in Florida demonstrated the success of a new scheme to disfranchise African Americans: denying the vote to individuals convicted of certain criminal acts. Between 1874 and 1882 a number of southern states amended their constitutions and revised their laws to disfranchise for petty theft as part of a larger effort to disfranchise African American voters and to restore the Democratic Party to political dominance in the region. These new laws were tools used by Democrats to prohibit Republicans from voting in some of the most tightly contested elections of this period.

November 1
Southern Historical Association
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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