About the Author

Tom Seabrook is a historian, writer, and editor based in Central Virginia. Currently, he is a Ph.D. student in the history program at George Mason University. His interests include memory, technology (especially the built environment), and local history.

Tom completed his BA in English and history at the College of William & Mary and his MA in history at Virginia Tech. He lives in Keswick, Virginia, with his family.

Document Type



Around the turn of the twentieth century, white Southerners crossed the political aisle to disfranchise African American voters through a series of legislation at the state level. Though African Americans resisted these efforts to strip them of their citizenship rights, many historians believe that African Americans had been practically shut out of politics by 1900. Disfranchisement did not mean that African Americans stopped asserting their constitutional rights, however, as historians who trace African American organization and resistance have shown. In this article, I examine the response of African Americans in Charlottesville, Virginia, to disfranchisement and I consider the effect disfranchisement had on the physical landscape of the city. I argue that Charlottesville’s African Americans actively resisted white supremacy by organizing to protest voter suppression and, most importantly, by continuing to register to vote. I also argue that disfranchisement enabled the creation of white spaces in Charlottesville at the expense of African Americans by empowering white politicians, developers, philanthropists, and voters to place the desires of white citizens over the needs of African Americans. I focus on a roughly 30-year period between the 1890s and the early 1920s, looking at African American life in Charlottesville immediately before disfranchisement and then exploring disfranchisement’s results.

The disfranchisement of African American voters created an opportunity for white politicians to impose their vision for society on cities across the South, laying the groundwork that enabled segregation and the physical manifestation of white supremacy to take root in Charlottesville. The landscape of Southern vindication that grew up after the effective removal of Charlottesville’s African American population from political power—including the Robert E. Lee monument, unveiled in 1924—became a catalyst to violence culminating in the 12 August 2017 Unite the Right rally. Understanding the background of African American disfranchisement in Charlottesville, and the resistance of local African Americans to their exclusion from the polls, contributes to the contextualization of white supremacy in Charlottesville. This article helps historians answer the question of how a city where African Americans described themselves in 1891 as “improving on every side” could be the scene of the events of 11 and 12 August 2017. Examining African American disfranchisement in Charlottesville will increase historians’ understanding of the origins of the white supremacy that was built into the city in the twentieth century and that continues to plague Charlottesville today.



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