The year is 1870. Ulysses S. Grant is president. Emerging from our Civil War, the Department of Justice is established with a founding charge to protect the civil rights of black Americans. 2020 is the Department’s sesquicentennial.
“The theme of this year’s [Black History Month] observance, ‘African Americans and the Vote’”—the President’s Proclamation reminds us—coincides with [another] 150-year anniversary: the ratification of the 15th Amendment.” The Fifteenth Amendment provides that “The right of citizens 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.” From its inception, the Justice Department set out to make the promise of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments a reality by, among other things, enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1871, commonly, known as the “Anti‑Klan Act.” With citizenship and the vote, came the entry of blacks into the Congress—two black Senators representing Mississippi and black representatives from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.