55th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

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55th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

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August 6, 2020 marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with civil rights leaders in attendance (photo courtesy: National Archives and National Park Service)

The 15th Amendment ratified in 1870, prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” The 19th Amendment states that the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

On March 7, 1965, organized locally by James Bevel, Amelia Boynton, John Lewis and others, peaceful marchers left Brown Chapel AME church in Selma, Alabama headed to the state capital 50 miles away in Montgomery, Alabama. This march and the response to it would become known as Bloody Sunday.

The brutality exhibited on the Edmund Pettus Bridge was captured on national television. America’s ability to witness this horror galvanized congressional support for the Voting Rights Act. On May 26, 1965, the United States Senate passed the voting rights bill by a vote of 77-19. On July 9, 1965, the United States House of Representatives pass the voting rights bill by a vote of 333-85. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965.

The Voting Rights Act contains two types of provisions: general provisions, which apply nationwide, and special provisions, which apply to only certain states and local governments. Read the full transcript of the Voting Rights Act by clicking here.

In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula used for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required jurisdictions with significant histories of voter discrimination to “pre-clear” any new voting practices or procedures with the Department of Justice, and show that they do not have a discriminatory purpose or effect.

On July 17, 2020 Congressman John Robert Lewis died. The bridge that was once stained with his blood was covered in red roses for his final journey over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The air that was once thick with tear gas was filled with resounding spirituals, voices shouting “thank you” and praises for a life well lived.

In 1965 John Lewis’s skull was fractured by an Alabama State Trooper. On his final trip through Alabama, Congressman Lewis was again met by Alabama State Troopers. This time the troopers carefully transferred his body from the horse drawn carriage that brought him over the bridge to the hearse that transported him to the Alabama state capital, where he lay in state.

In his final gift to us, Congressman John Lewis penned an essay shortly before his death, to be published upon the day of his funeral. He wrote, “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed.”

55 years later…a statement from Angela Moore, Executive Director, YWCA Rock County.

“As I pause to acknowledge the 55th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, I am grateful for each sacrifice that was made to secure the vote,” said Moore. “My commitment to exercise this right, and encouragement of all others to do the same, is renewed. Our vote has the power to help us achieve the YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women.”