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Today, voting is a right that many adults over the age of eighteen take for granted. Until the mid-1800's, however, only white men had that right. Though the 13th Amendment (1865) to the U.S. Constitution ended the institution of slavery, and the 14th Amendment (1868) granted citizenship to former slaves, it was not until the ratification of the 15th Amendment (1870) that all men, regardless of race or color, were guaranteed the right to vote.
On March 31, 1870, only one month after the ratification of the 15th Amendment, Thomas Mundy Peterson (1824–1904) became the first African American to vote in an election. This medal was issued by the citizens of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and presented to Peterson in 1884. The back of the medal bears the words:
PRESENTED by CITIZENS
OF PERTH AMBOY N.J.
THE FIRST COLORED VOTER
IN THE U.S. UNDER THE
PROVISIONS OF THE
ELECTION HELD IN
MARCH 31TH 1870
Peterson, the son of parents who had been slaves owned by the Mundy family, was politically active and became the first African American to hold an elected office (on the Middlesex County Commission) in the city of Perth Amboy. In New Jersey, March 31st is annually celebrated as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day to mark the right of all citizens to vote.
Written by Dee Albrinck, elementary school teacher, Hebron, Kentucky, and Ted Green, assistant professor, Multidisciplinary Studies, Webster University School of Education, St. Louis, Missouri.