On September 23-25, the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library hosted the Fifteenth Amendment and Voting Rights Act Symposium at Mississippi State University. The symposium brought together some of the best scholars in the field of voting rights history in the United States and individuals who had fought for equal voting rights during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
The 15th Amendment, ratified during Ulysses S. Grant's administration, became part of the Constitution in 1870 and stated that voting rights should not be denied a citizen based on color or former condition of slavery. Grant called the ratification of this amendment "the most important event that has occurred, since the nation came to life." Lyndon Johnson said the Voting Rights Act (1965) was "a triumph of freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield."
The symposium began with a reception Wednesday evening in MSU's Colvard Student Union and was followed by a dinner in the Union's Foster Ballroom. Dr. Doug Egerton of LeMoyne College spoke about the background to the 15th Amendment and the changes brought about by that legislation during the Reconstruction years.
Thursday and Friday throughout the day, panel sessions and discussions took place in the MSU Shackouls Honors College at Griffis Hall. The first panel session featured Mississippi Chief Justice William Waller, retired Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Fred Banks, and Rhode Island Chief Justice (ret) Frank J. Williams, and was moderated by former Mississippi Governor William Winter. Other panel sessions featured scholars from across the country, former Civil Rights activists, and staff from National Park Service sites. Together, the sessions provided not only information but also personal insight into the history of voting rights and its relevance today.
Dr. Michael Fauntroy concluded the symposium at a reception and dinner held at the Hunter Henry Center. Fauntroy discussed the Voting Rights Act and its impact in the following decades on voting issues today.
The symposium was sponsored by the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, Mississippi State University Libraries, Office of the President, Office of the Provost, Shackouls Honors College, College of Arts and Sciences, African American Studies Program, Political Science Department, Office of Public Affairs, Mississippi State University; Mississippi Department of Archives and History, University Press of Mississippi, and the National Park Service (Shiloh and Vicksburg National Military Parks).