This article explores the idea of equal citizenship central to the reconstructed Constitution that originated in the crucible of African American experience and framed by the Black abolitionist movement of the antebellum North. It identifies some of the key concepts of this mid-nineteenth-century African American Constitutionalism embodied in the phrase used at the time of “Emancipate, Enfranchise, Educate.” These became the core principles of Black Reconstruction as Black leaders and their white allies sought to secure civil freedom, free labor, equal suffrage and political power, and access to education and economic and social advancement. The essay addresses primary source materials that exemplify a dynamic and vibrant public discourse by African Americans on the nature and meaning of equal citizenship before ratification of the Reconstruction amendments, and then briefly consider congressional speeches on what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1875. It shows that the rights embodied in the three Reconstruction amendments were seen not as discrete texts for judicial parsing and doctrinal boundary-drawing, but as an interrelated set of core principles essential to the very ideas of freedom and equal citizenship, ideals that were meant to motivate and guide political and economic action.
James W. Fox Jr., Fellow Citizens, 12 ConLawNOW 171 (2021).