Voter Suppression: Then and Now

Following the 2020 presidential election, the ensuing debates over the integrity of the election and the violence of early 2021, voting rights and efforts to ensure fair and safe elections seem as important as ever.

The Brennan Center for Justice’s State Voting Bill Tracker 2021 reports that in just over one month, hundreds of restrictive bills were introduced across the country, some of which have already passed and been signed into law. Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Michigan’s legislative battles have dominated headlines for many weeks.

As debates rage, many have invoked terminology we thought a distant part of our nation’s troubled history, calling these newly introduced voting bills Jim Crow laws. Looking into our past using resources in our collections can help us better understand the ways laws meant to protect marginalized citizens failed. Politicians cloaked systemic bias into law by utilizing coded language and proxies for race to deny people of color access to the ballot.

Literacy Tests and Poll Taxes

Literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather laws all arose from efforts to ensure that the electorate was primarily composed of white, wealthy men. With constitutional amendments introduced to protect African Americans and women, politicians determined to uphold the status quo developed these laws to continue to disenfranchise people of color while being able to deny any violation of the 15th amendment. These laws were inconsistently applied across racial groups, often exempting white citizens from these rules.

Redistricting and Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering can take many forms. Techniques called “cracking and packing” involve consolidating and dividing populations in and across districts. Both techniques have the same effect of strengthening the power of the white vote while silencing marginalized votes. This document illustrates how inequitable representation was across the state of Oklahoma in the 1950s. Some districts received a representative with only half the population as other districts.

Challenging Disenfranchisement

There were many tireless advocates for equitable voting rights. Below is an example of research that demonstrates the success of expanding voting rights.

Warning: This document contains offensive and outdated language. We strongly condemn the use of such language and ask exhibition visitors to engage with this material carefully and critically.

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Explore more about historical disenfranchisement and the history of voting rights in America by visiting our virtual exhibition Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America.

New Virtual Exhibition: Weapons of Math Destruction in the Archives

A new virtual exhibition of items from University Libraries Special Collections and University Archives related to Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction is now available. In her book, O’Neil presents arguments for how algorithms increasingly control critical functions in our lives and the danger of increasing our dependence on these flawed algorithms. While much of the material in Special Collections and University Archives cannot speak to the issues with present day algorithms, what these collections can help us understand are the “historical data sets” that drive our cultural implicit biases and shape the algorithms we encounter everyday. These items allow us to explore the ways that bias has historically played a role in upholding inequitable systems. Explore material from our collection related to higher education, hiring and employment, credit, insurance, and advertising by visiting the new virtual exhibition Weapons of Math Destruction in the Archives.

Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction was selected as the 2020-2021 First Year Book.

Brood X Cicadas are on their Way: Find them in the Newspapers

Evening capital and Maryland gazette. (Annapolis, Md.), 21 June 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1915-06-21/ed-1/seq-3/>

It’s that time of year! After spending 17 years underground, the Brood X cicadas will emerge around the third week of May. “For about four to six weeks after the cicadas emerge, woods and neighborhoods will ring with their buzzing mating calls” (Kelly Kizer Whitt, EARTH, April 1, 2021). Have no fear, though! The cicadas are harmless. They won’t eat crops, and they won’t bite you. They just come to do their business and leave. Once the eggs are laid, the adult cicadas will die; the baby cicadas will hatch and burrow back into the ground for 17 years; and the cycle will repeat.

Cicadas are already trending in the news in the Mid-Atlantic region. Perhaps you’re wondering what the community thought of Brood X’s arrival in the past. Chronicling America is a great resource to compare current news articles about the 17 year cicadas with historic news articles about the brood. 

Catoctin clarion. [volume] (Mechanicstown, Md.), 12 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026688/1919-06-12/ed-1/seq-4/>

In a 1919 article of the Catoctin Clarion, published in Thurmont, Maryland, there is a quote from a 1669 book that details a cicada visit from years earlier: ““It is to be observed,” he says, “that the spring before there was a numerous company of flies, which were like for bigness unto wasps or bumble-bees, they came out of little holes in the ground, and did eat up the green things, and made such a constant yelling noise as made all the woods ring of them and ready to deaf the hearers” (Catoctin clarion. [volume] (Mechanicstown, Md.), 12 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026688/1919-06-12/ed-1/seq-4/>). Of course, they weren’t flies, and they didn’t “eat up the green things.” However, their mating rituals were the same. Hundreds of years later, the Brood X cicadas are likely to do so every 17 years for hundreds of years to come, despite what some 1919 headlines might have led people (who didn’t read the article) to believe.

Catoctin clarion. [volume] (Mechanicstown, Md.), 12 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026688/1919-06-12/ed-1/seq-4/>
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Online Exhibit – How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris

Are you looking for a way to enjoy Literature and Rare Books’ digital holdings?  Explore our updated virtual exhibit How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris.  This online exhibit offers insight into William Morris (1834-1896), who was an author, socialist, decorator, printer, calligrapher, and leader in the Arts and Crafts Movement.  Morris was inspired by the Middle Ages to produce beautiful, high quality works.  Morris’ creations include furnishings from Morris and Co. and books published by Kelmscott Press.  Morris was also active in the English Socialist movement and founded the Socialist League in 1884.

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Women’s History Month: Suffrage Pilgrimages in Historic Maryland Newspapers

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re going to take a look at suffrage pilgrimages that took place in Maryland in the summers of 1914 and 1915.

Back in August 2020, the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project and the Maryland State Archives co-hosted a social media campaign in honor of the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment. Many of the posts created for the campaign came from a newspaper digitized by HMNP in Chronicling America titled the Maryland Suffrage News.

One of HMNP’s Instagram posts for the #MDSuffrage and #MarylandWomenVote social media campaign
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How to Search for Black History Month in Chronicling America

Happy Black History Month!

In honor of this special month, let’s find out how to search for Black History in our Maryland newspapers in Chronicling America!

The voice of labor. (Cumberland, Md.), 16 Jan. 1941. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060375/1941-01-16/ed-1/seq-3/>
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Searching Digitized Newspapers in Chronicling America

Welcome to Chronicling America

A collaboration between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress, the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) awards organizations grants to create state partnerships for newspaper digitization. As a result, state partners contribute digitized newspapers to Chronicling America. As of January 2021, Chronicling America contains over 17 million pages of digitized newspapers that are freely accessible to the public. Newspapers from 48 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico are included in this remarkable collection (check out this map for a visual!). Newspapers in Chronicling America go as far back as 1777, but as seen in this data visualization, most of the digitized newspaper titles were published between 1850 and 1922. For the state of Maryland, the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project at the University of Maryland Libraries partners with other archives, libraries, and historical societies throughout the state to digitize newspapers published in Maryland for Chronicling America.

The citizen. (Frederick City, Md.), 01 March 1895. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060092/1895-03-01/ed-1/seq-1/>

For the Maryland collection, Chronicling America contains issues from 50 newspaper titles from across the state published between 1840 and 1951. Some highlights from the collection include:

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The Causes and Legacies of the UMD Black Student Protests of the 1960s-70s

Similar to the Black Lives Matters protests of today, the anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s and early-mid 1970s were frequently organized and led by young people.  Anti-war demonstrations and boycotts became commonplace on college campuses across the country throughout the Vietnam War.  And while protests weren’t necessarily restricted to students from specific backgrounds, black student activists maintained a unique perspective and set of objectives when it came to American involvement in Vietnam.

Following American military escalation in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, prominent civil rights organizations like SNCC and leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X vehemently rejected the notion that Black Americans should be required to aid the war efforts.  In 1965, SNCC issued a statement that declared: “No Black Mississippian should be fighting in Vietnam for the white man’s freedom until all the Negro people are free in Mississippi.”  In other words, many African-Americans across the country contended that they should not be required to fight and support a foreign war for democracy when their own rights were still not fully secured at home.

Despite the growing numbers of black-led protests throughout the 1960s, African-American men continued to bear the brunt of American military hardships during the war.  African-American men were much more likely to be drafted into the military compared to white men.  In 1967, 64 percent of eligible black men were drafted into war–compared to only 31 percent of eligible white men.  The casualty rate of black soldiers was also disproportionately higher.  Black soldiers were twice as likely to die in combat compared to whites.

In spite of stern opposition from university leadership and deterrence from police and National Guard troops, African-American students at University of Maryland continued to organize and hold campus protests into the early 1970s.  In addition to protesting the military draft and American escalation in southeast Asia, student activists also used the protests as opportunities to advocate for racial equality on campus.  Student protestors, including those active with the Students for a Democratic Society, demanded for the university to enroll larger numbers of students of color and hire additional faculty of color.  As doctoral student Greg Dunkel later claimed, “the connection between the struggle against racism at UMD and the struggle against the war was very significant.”    

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David Biel, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science

AFL-CIO Films on YouTube!

We now have 40 short films from our AFL-CIO film collection uploaded to George Meany Labor Archives playlist on the Hornbake Library YouTube channel! Many of these films were digitized as part of the “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History In America,” exhibit. This post intends to expand and explore upon a selection of films that we not only think are interesting, but also contextually relevant to the present day.

The first of these films is “CORE: Freedom Ride,” 1961, Presented by the Social Action Commission of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

Narrated by James Farmer, National Director of CORE and founder of the Freedom Rides, this film recounts the experiences of Freedom Riders shortly after the rides ended in December 1961. This film includes footage from the Freedom Rides, and testimony from Freedom Riders Jim Peck, Albert Bigelow, and Genevieve Hughes.

You can view all the videos in the George Meany Labor Archives playlist and explore more from the Labor history collections online. Have a question? Contact us!