Look under the letter "R" in the "white" poll book, and you might find at least a dozen names. Look under the same letter in the "colored" poll book, you would be lucky to find one. The Prince William County Historic Preservation Division has two Brentsville District poll books from 1902 — one labeled "Colored" and the other labeled "White" — that need to be restored. And with your help, that could happen.
The Virginia Association of Museums named the poll books as one of the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts for 2017. As part of this program, the public is asked to vote for their favorite endangered artifact. The artifact that receives the most votes will receive $5,000. If the Brentsville District poll books are chosen then that money will go toward restoring the books.
"The poll books need a lot of attention on rebinding, stabilizing the paper and restoring the leather on the covers," said Prince William Preservationist Sarah Nucci. "They're really just coming apart."
Voting will be available online at www.vatop10artifacts.org between Jan. 15 and Jan. 24 and can be cast once a day from a unique IP address, Nucci said. "You don't have to be from Virginia. Anybody anywhere in the world that wants to can vote."
Restoring the poll books is incredibly important because they represent one of the first opportunities for African American men to vote, Nucci said. They also represent the state-sponsored voter disenfranchisement of African Americans that lasted until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act ended poll taxes, which were about 1 percent of an African American male's annual income at the time, the impromptu constitutional tests given by the local registrars, and the tests African American voters had to take to be able to prove they could read and write before they were allowed to vote.
"These poll books are very important in telling the story of American history," said Nucci. "We are so excited that we have these artifacts in Prince William County, and we are hoping that everyone out there votes for the poll books so we can restore them and share that piece of history with our residents."