It happened in 1870. Following its ratification by the requisite three-fourths of the states, the Fifteenth Amendment, granting African American men the right to vote, was formally adopted into the United States Constitution. Passed by Congress the year before, the amendment reads, “The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” One day after it was adopted, Thomas Mundy Peterson, of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, became the first African American to vote under the authority of the Fifteenth Amendment.
Did you catch the year – 1870? Does that seem strange to anyone? Do you remember when President Abraham Lincoln delivered the historic Emancipation Proclamation? The speech and executive order, in a single stroke, changed the legal status of more than three million enslaved persons in the designated areas of the South from “Slave” to “Free.”
African Americans were granted their freedom on January 1, 1863 with the great Emancipation. That means that for the next seven years, they were “free.” But they didn’t act free for seven years, as they were not yet allowed to vote.
That is a parable on life. When Jesus died and was resurrected, he declared us free. He said we are “free indeed” (John 8:36). But many of us don’t live like it. It is one thing to receive the gift of freedom – from sin, damnation, and ourselves. It is a better thing to live like the redeemed men and women we are.