50 Years Ago, All Americans Won the Right to Vote. Today That Right Is Under Attack.

On the shoulders of my grandfather Dilmus Agnew, my mother watched Martin Luther King, Jr. give his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech in our nation’s capital in 1963. “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote,” exclaimed Dr. King, as my mother watched on. “No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Because of the work of Dr. King and other civil rights advocates, two years later the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ushered in a new era for the rights of people of color. The road to passing the VRA was not an easy one. But it was the product of the blood, sweat, and tears of many fighting for basic civil rights, culminating in the events of March 7, 1965. The painful sting of tear gas and the piercing sounds of guns from Alabama State troopers turned a peaceful protest in Selma organized by Dr. King into what we know today as Bloody Sunday.

The actions of the troopers were televised, and Americans all across the nation watched the brutal unprovoked attacks on African-Americans seeking dignity and equality, including the right to vote. One civil rights activist and graduate of Tuskegee Institute, the late Amelia Boynton Robinson, recalled:

“As I stepped aside from the trooper’s club, I felt a blow on my arm that could have injured me permanently had it been on my head. Another blow by a trooper as I was gasping for breath knocked me to the ground and there I lay unconscious.”

A week after Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon B. Johnson charged Congress to enact a comprehensive voting rights legislation that guarantees the right to vote for every American. He said:

“Open your polling places to all your people. Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin. … What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of America life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negros, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.”

Just five months after “Bloody Sunday,” the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law on August 6 in the presence of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other prominent civil rights activists. The VRA outlawed literacy tests, poll taxes, and other discriminatory barriers that were used to keep African-Americans from voting. In addition, it provided checks and balances on state policies in places with a history of discrimination.

President Johnson’s claim that voting rights are an American issue was exemplified through the bipartisan support the act received. There has been widespread bipartisan support of the VRA since its inception to its subsequent reauthorizations. Most recently in 2006, Congress reauthorized, nearly unanimously, the act for another 25 years.

But the question is, now, 52 years later, has the “dream” been fulfilled? Has justice rolled down like waters and righteousness like a stream as Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped it would?

We have seen great progress over the past half-decade thanks to the VRA. By the end of 1965, 250,000 new African-American citizens were registered to vote. The number of African-Americans holding elected offices has grown nationwide. Representation in the House and Senate increased from five legislators before the VRA was passed to 50 in 2017.

Progress, however, has been interrupted.

In 2013, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder removed the heart of the Voting Rights Act. In a five to four decision, the court struck down the key provision of the law that required states with a history of voter discrimination to preclear changes to their voting laws and practices with the Department of Justice to ensure their fairness. The majority made this decision even as they acknowledged that voter suppression and discrimination still occur.

As a result, the flood gates opened with
17 states introducing restrictive laws affecting over 110 million people and their right to vote. The new laws range from Texas’ voter ID laws that prohibit students to use their school identification to vote while accepting gun licenses to North Carolina’s “monster voter suppression” bill that a federal appeals court found to be “targeting African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the most successful civil rights laws in our nation’s history. We must honor and never forget those that fought inside and outside the court room, and even paid with their lives to ensure that all people have the right to vote. That’s why we have to keep up the fight to end voter suppression laws and efforts.

Congress must pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act to fully restore the Voting Rights Act. The Advancement Act would restore and update the requirements for states with a history of discrimination to get pre-approval before voting changes take effect, combatting the modern forms of voter suppression we see today.

The responsibility is now ours to honor the trailblazers of the past through action that will ensure an even brighter future for all Americans.

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Anonymous

The smear of our President continues. The propaganda machine, more powerful than Gobbles and the Nazi's, is systematically taking down President Trump. The foolish don't get it; as they cheer his demise they are unaware that it is the end of our democracy and the end of free speech. As Sheryl Attkisson brilliantly points out in her book 'The Smear', Gobbles; "A lie told once is a lie, told a thousand times it becomes truth". Think the Russian story which is forced down our throats by the six corporations which control the media in our nation (and probably the ACLU as well).

Anonymous

The "system" you refer to is the immune system of this country against a dangerously unqualified, divisive, self-serving and most likely mentally ill demagogue whose interests and policies align more closely with authoritarian Russia or Turkey than with the ideals of the USA. Anyone who isn't in complete denial or in the thrall of a cult of personality can plainly see the writing on the wall just by examining the Trump circle's own words and actions and those of the Republican-led Intelligence Committees.

And actually staying on the topic of the article, how exactly is fighting voter suppression "the end of democracy"?

Anonymous

How's Moscow this time of year, comrade?

Martin Loogie K...

I'm not really dead. I was reincarnated as Barack Insane Obama. I also joined Ku Klux Klan because I'm not really charcoal colored but I'm white actually. I march for gay rights now because I think I'm as gay as Barney Frank!!

Anonymous

"Gobbles"?

Anonymous

Gobbles was Goebles little known right-hand man,sometimes seen whispering in the propaganda mastermind's ear, one witness to this exchange thought she heard Gobbles say, 'gobble gobble gobble'.

Anonymous

"surgical precision"?? Typo or mistake.

James Murphy

Crazy-assed white people with a crazy-assed president. (Lower-case "p" on Purpose.)

Anonymous

For those who want this President to be removed from office before his term ends, why exactly? What about those of us who voted for him? Is our vote to be negated by an angry mob, whipped into this frenzy by the media? I don't get it. Give the guy a chance, after all and against all odds, he's creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and breathing life into the stockmarket.
Why let a handful of billionaires make all your decisions for you?
Support our President!
C'mon Bernie, you should get behind him as well and turn this mob into Trump supporters!

Tiffaney

This country was built on lies. Let us not be distracted by who is president at the current moment. The fact is is that the government does it truly control anything they are merely a vehicle of enforcement. The real people that run the world boil down to about 13 families so While everyone is arguing over Donald we are missing the bigger picture. To my people of color we must learn to play the game meaning that we have to stop sending out children to white facilities to learn white lies. Tomorrow people of color we must learn to stop spending our money with everyone else but us. If black people were a nation we would be the 15th most wealthiest nation in the world. We have so much value in the powers that be like to market the idea that we are poor but the fact is that there is way more white people on government assistance then there is people of color. Remember money makes the world go around so if we control where we put our assets efforts and focus then we will be fine. It's time to organize stop arguing with ignorance. The truth is we also have to stop eating meat also have to stop eating Meat and dairy .if we don't start researching our health and what we should be eating we are still slaves

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