NC Grandfather Clause Created Useful Cabarrus Records

10 Oct 2014

Editorial cartoon criticizing the usage of literacy tests for African Americans as a qualification to vote. Illustration: Harper’s Weekly, v. 23 (1879 Jan. 18). 
Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Today, October 10, 2014, is the last day to register for the November 4 general election. The criteria defining free elections have changed many times in our nation’s political past. Unfortunately, the tradition of free elections, which have always been held up as a cornerstone of the American political system, have not always been open to everyone.

In 1900, the North Carolina General Assembly proposed an amendment to the state constitution requiring that any voter registration applicant must have paid his poll tax and be able to read and write any section of the Constitution. This literacy test was designed to legally restrict the African-American vote. The large number of poor illiterate black males ensured that the literacy test and the poll tax would be used to reduce the electorate. In order not to disenfranchise illiterate white voters, a “Grandfather Clause” provided that any person who was entitled to vote on or before January 1, 1867, or his lineal descendant, who registered before December 1, 1908, could vote even if he did not meet the educational requirement. The amendment was approved in a state election, August 1900. Modeled after a Louisiana statute, the 1867 date was important because it preceded any federal prohibition of racial discrimination; therefore very few blacks were eligible to vote. 

Not one of the more ethical pieces of North Carolina legislation, the “Grandfather Clause” did create another record of use to genealogists. The resulting voter registration lists name each voter, giving his age, the name of an ancestor who voted before 1867, the state where that ancestor voted and the registration date. This information can help bridge the gap created by the destroyed 1890 census, and for older voters, can provide another one or two generations.

Those registering in Concord, Wards 1 and 3, on October 11, 1902, include:
W. D. Anthony, age 62, ancestor J. B. Anthony;
Jacob Barnhardt, age 23, ancestor J. W. Barnhardt;
Levi Sides, age 25, ancestor Monroe Sides;
James B. Thompson, age 57, ancestor Robert Thompson – voted in South Carolina in 1867;
N. M. Weir, age 31, ancestor S. B. Weir – voted in Georgia in 1867;

Registered in October, 1906:
James L. Brown and Archey W. Brown, both 22, ancestor A. M, Brown;

Registered in October, 1908:
J. A. Barnhardt, age 23, and Charles L. Barnhardt, age 21, ancestor Jake Goodman

The Cabarrus County Voter Registration Lists, 1902-1908, are alphabetical by township.

Courtesy of Cabarrus County Library, Lore Local History Room