Of the nearly 80 federal and state charges that former President Donald Trump faces as he campaigns for the White House again, one of the least well known harks back to the darks days of a racially divided America after the end of the Civil War.

Known as the Ku Klux Klan Acts, they are officially called the Enforcement Acts because they empowered the federal government to enforce the laws that freed enslaved people and guaranteed equal protection and the right to vote.

As a historian who studies democracy and the American South, Joseph Patrick Kelly of the College of Charleston believes the 1870s have something to teach us about the fourth count in the Jan. 6 case against Trump.

And that is not necessarily good news for Trump.

“In the 20th century,” Kelly explains, “the Supreme Court has ruled that all sorts of election infringements violate the Enforcement Acts, including stuffing ballot boxes and bribing voters. A suspect doesn’t have to commit violence against Black voters to violate the law.”

Howard Manly

Race + Equity Editor

Special counsel Jack Smith delivers remarks on an indictment against former U.S. President Donald Trump on Aug. 1, 2023. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A brief history of the Ku Klux Klan Acts: 1870s laws to protect Black voters, ignored for decades, now being used against Trump

Joseph Patrick Kelly, College of Charleston

One of the charges against Donald Trump dates back to the 1870s and was designed to give the federal government the power to ensure states held free and fair elections.

One of Donald Trump’s PACs has nearly dried up its resources by paying his legal fees. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Trump’s political action committee wants a $60 million refund on paying his legal fees – 3 key things to know about PACs

Richard Briffault, Columbia University

There are different kinds of PACs, but it is not clear if Trump’s use of them to pay his large legal fees violates election or campaign finance laws.

If people were dropped into a new situation tomorrow, how would they choose to govern themselves? Just_Super/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Re-imagining democracy for the 21st century, possibly without the trappings of the 18th century

Bruce Schneier, Harvard Kennedy School

The modern representative democracy was the best form of government mid-18th-century technology could invent. The 21st century is a different place scientifically, technically and socially.

Medical exploitation of Black people in America goes far beyond the cells stolen from Henrietta Lacks that produced modern day miracles

Deion Scott Hawkins, Emerson College

Medical exploitation is an often overlooked part of Black history and partly explains the mistrust that members of the Black community have for the medical industry.

Donald Trump’s right − he is getting special treatment, far better than most other criminal defendants

Christopher Robertson, Boston University; Russell M. Gold, University of Alabama

While Trump has received early warnings ahead of indictments and detailed explanations behind the charges, criminal defendants typically get a bare-bones explanation.

When Confederate-glorifying monuments went up in the South, voting in Black areas went down

Alexander N. Taylor, George Mason University

The drive to remove Confederate monuments links those monuments to modern racism. An economic historian shows that the intent and effect of those monuments from inception was to perpetuate racism.

Contacting your legislator? Cite your sources – if you want them to listen to you

Daniel E Bergan, Michigan State University

You can affect how legislators vote, but you can’t just fire off a nasty email and expect them to listen to you.

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