Exhibit held in the Virginia Capitol Extension
New exhibit held through July 2018 in the Virginia Capitol Extension

The Virginia General Assembly is showcasing a new exhibition in the gallery of the Capitol Extension called The Virginia Constitutional Convention, 1867-1868. Developed in partnership with the Capitol Square Preservation Council, Library of Virginia, and Virginia’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, the exhibition celebrates the 150th anniversary of this important convention, which was held in the Old House Chamber of the Capitol from December 3, 1867 to April 17, 1868.

The preamble developed by the Constitutional Convention in Richmond - Imaged at Library of Virginia, Photo & Digital Imaging Services Department August 2014
Click or tap the image above to view the preamble developed by the Constitutional Convention in Richmond – Imaged at Library of Virginia, Photo & Digital Imaging Services Department
August 2014

As a condition of readmission into the United States after the Civil War, the U.S. Congress required Virginia to create a reconstructed government and hold this convention to establish a new constitution. African American men participated in the process, voting for the first time in Virginia’s history by casting votes to choose the convention’s delegates. They also ran for seats, and 24 African American men were elected. The constitution adopted by the convention and later ratified by Virginia voters in July 1869 resulted in universal suffrage for men, the establishment of Virginia’s first statewide system of public schools, veto power for the governor, and the creation of magisterial districts. With the new constitution in place, Congress readmitted Virginia to the Union in 1870 and African Americans entered Virginia politics, with around 100 black Virginians serving in the two houses of the General Assembly during the era of Reconstruction.

Download an exhibition poster for the event.

See a large engraving that appeared in “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper”, courtesy of the Library of Virginia.

Exhibition Related Programming Runs February – May of 2018

  • February 16—February 24, 2018
  • On View: Virginia Constitution of 1868 and the King George County Ballot Box
  • Old House Chamber
  • Virginia State Capitol
  • Free and open to the public

In the Capitol’s Old House Chamber, delegates to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868 met to debate and approve a new constitution for Virginia. In a special showing this February, courtesy of the Library of Virginia, the original Constitution will be on view in the space where the delegates met and created this revolutionary document 150 years ago. Also on view is a rare, surviving ballot box from King George County, Virginia, used by African Americans to cast ballots on October 22, 1867. This election for delegates to the convention was the first time that African American men had the freedom to exercise their right to vote in Virginia.

  • March 21, 2018
  • Constructing a New Virginia: The Revolutionary Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868
  • Brent Tarter, Independent Scholar and Author
  • Lunchtime Lecture
  • Library of Virginia
  • 12:00—1:00 p.m.
  • Free and open to the public

Much of what we think we know about the Reconstruction Era is a product of mythologies promoted by Southern elites who sabotaged African American voting and citizenship rights and built the Jim Crow system enshrined in the 1902 state constitution. Examining the period and its events with eyes unencumbered by these old myths, we see a dynamic, revolutionary movement that made Virginia, for a time, more democratic and forward thinking. The 1867-1868 constitution improved life for all Virginians, creating, for example, the first comprehensive system of public education in the Commonwealth’s history.

  • April 12, 2018
  • “You Have No Right to Refuse to Register Me!”: Disenfranchisement in Virginia, 1866-1902
  • Greg Crawford, Local Records Program Manager, Library of Virginia
  • Lunchtime Lecture
  • Library of Virginia
  • 12:00—1:00 p.m.
  • Free and open to the public

Following the Civil War, thousands of African American men over the age of 21 received the most cherished right of citizenship—the right to vote. Within a generation, that right would be taken away. Archivist Greg Crawford from the Library of Virginia will share the story of African American disenfranchisement using local and state election records stored at the Library of Virginia. He will also talk about how the public can play a role in telling this story through the Library of Virginia’s innovative “Transcribe” project.

  • May 17, 2018
  • Race and the Right to Vote: Contextualizing African American Suffrage in Virginia
  • Roundtable Discussion with Corinne Field, Julian Hayter, Senator Jennifer McClellan, and Nicole Turner
  • Lunchtime Lecture
  • Library of Virginia
  • 6:00—8:00 p.m.
  • Free and open to the public

Congress required that Virginia and the other former slave states of the Confederacy create reconstructed governments based on new constitutions after the Civil war. In Virginia, the election of delegates to the convention would mark the first time that African Americans voted in the Commonwealth. Twenty-four African American men served as delegates in the convention. Working with their white counterparts, they shaped and approved a new constitution in 1868 giving African American men the right to vote and hold public office. Now, 150 years later, we look back on the legacy of that constitution with a panel of historians, lawmakers, and activists to reflect on the promise and politics of African American suffrage then and now.