The Voting Rights Act turns 40
Forty three years ago on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law, the historic Voting Rights Act. The legislation ensured the right-to-vote for Black Americans, ending nearly a century of poll taxes, intimidation, and other civil rights obstacles. Passage of the bill came on the heels of the bloody civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
March 7, 1965 - Americans were stunned and transfixed by television images of violent brutal attacks on protestors by Alabama State Troopers. That day which became known as "Bloody Sunday" galvanized the country and lead to the eventual passage of new voting rights protections.
Flanked by Democrat and Republican lawmakers Johnson called signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act closing a chapter of America's shameful past. "They came in darkness and they came in chains. Today we strike away the last major shackle of those fierce and ancient bonds," said Johnson.
1965 Voting Rights Act is the most crucial piece of legislation passed during the civil rights movement. It is the back bone that is responsible for tumbling the segregationist status quo that kept Black voters from the polls. The legislation also laid the foundation for the creation of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
In the 40 years since the Voting Rights Act was passed, African Americans in public office have soared from three members of Congress to 43 today. There are 21 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Asian Americans and Native Americans historically shut out of the political process have also moved toward full political participation and empowerment.
A bipartisan Congress has voted four times - in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 1992 - to extend the law's key provisions. Key elements including a pre-clearance provision which prohibits un-authorized redistricting re-registration and voter intimidation expires in 2007. Original law made the provisions "temporary" subject to reauthorization by Congress based on evidence that the need for federal oversight continues to exist.
Young points to the 2000 Bush/Gore debacle along with a litany of confirmed voting rights abuses in states like Florida and Ohio. "If Congress returns voting oversight to the states, America could see the widespread return of practices that Democrats and Republicans have historically used to discriminate against people of color." Its the reimplementation of these key provisions democratic advocates seek to reinforce through congressional reauthorization.
"Let me destroy a myth. We do not lose our right to vote in 2007," says Andrew Young who helped draft the Voting Rights Act while he was an executive assistant to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. "However winning congressional reauthorization in these divisive and rising antidemocratic times is crucial. It's time to go back to the streets - to organize "bottom up" to protect and defend hard won victories of the last 40 even 80 years." said Young.
On August 6, 2005 forty years to the date, Young who went on to become a member of Congress, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and the mayor of Atlanta, joined more than 10,000 Atlanta marchers calling on Congress to reauthorize the Act.
Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D) Illinois says under the current administration, advocates for reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act are taking nothing for granted. Not long ago, Jackson, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the nation's lone African-American Senator, Barack Obama (D) Illinois, met with President Bush.
Jackson says when he asked the President if Americans can count on his support t extend and protect the 1965 Voting Rights Act - to their dismay, "The President of the United States said he wasn't familiar with it. But when it comes before his desk in 2007, he will look at the legislation and consider signing it."
Jackson said a resounding silence fell over the room. "We were all out done." He says the group left the meeting recommitted and galvanized. "We will not turn back."
Sadly, he said, the president's philosophy on the 1965
Voting Rights Act illustrates a telling and more vital argument: "American
democracy is at risk. Insidious racism still inflicts debilitating psychic
pain on many of our citizens. The Voting Rights Act, the backbone of all
other rights must be fiercely protected." Jackson said.
Information from an article which first appeared on
the Black Voice News online edition at
Join the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists in its national call to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act at www.cbtu.org.