Voting Rights Act of 1965 at 50: A law 'true to our principles'
Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act, signed in 1965 by then-President Lyndon Johnson and hailed as one of the most successful civil rights laws in the country’s history.
The act, which barred discriminatory voting practices that had been used to deny people—particularly African-Americans—their constitutional right to vote, was no easy feat and came after decades of civil unrest and violence.
The civil rights movement culminated on March 7, 1965—now known as “Bloody Sunday”—when about 500 civil rights marchers were beaten back by police officers equipped with tear gas and clubs as they tried to cross the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. On March 21, 1965, a five day march to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King Jr. (under court protection) took place with crowds growing to 25,000—an event that directly impacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In fact, by the end of 1965, approximately 250,000 new black voters became registered.
“Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color,” Johnson said during remarks at the act’s signing. “This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which no American, true to our principles, can deny.”
While America has come a long way since the act became law, voting rights for minorities are still under attack, argue many. In fact, on Thursday’s anniversary, President Obama plans to call for renewal of the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court in 2013 took away one of the strongest powers the federal government had to block discriminatory voting laws.
While Democrats say the ruling’s impact has resulted in minorities being discouraged from voting, Republicans argue it curbs voter fraud.
Here’s a photographic, historical look back at the voting rights movement.