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President Johnson signs Voting Rights Act

President Johnson signs Voting Rights Act

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On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. The bill made it illegal to impose restrictions on federal, state and local elections that were designed to deny the vote to Black people.

Johnson assumed the presidency in November 1963 upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In the presidential race of 1964, Johnson was officially elected in a landslide victory and used this mandate to push for legislation he believed would improve the American way of life, which included stronger voting-rights laws. A recent march in Alabama in support of voting rights, during which Black people were beaten by state troops, shamed Congress and the president into passing the law, meant to enforce the 15th Amendment of the Constitution ratified by Congress in 1870.

READ MORE: When Did African Americans Get the Right to Vote?

In a speech to Congress on March 15, 1965, Johnson had outlined the devious ways in which election officials denied African-American citizens the vote. Black people attempting to vote were often told by election officials that they gotten the date, time or polling place wrong, that the officials were late or absent, that they possessed insufficient literacy skills or had filled out an application incorrectly. Often African Americans, whose population suffered a high rate of illiteracy due to centuries of oppression and poverty, would be forced to take literacy tests, which they inevitably failed. Johnson also told Congress that voting officials, primarily in southern states, had been known to force black voters to “recite the entire constitution or explain the most complex provisions of state laws”–a task most white voters would have been hard-pressed to accomplish. In some cases, even Black people with college degrees were turned away from the polls.

Although the Voting Rights Act passed, state and local enforcement of the law was weak and it was often outright ignored, mainly in the South and in areas where the proportion of Black people in the population was high and their vote threatened the political status quo. Still, the Voting Rights Act gave African-American voters the legal means to challenge voting restrictions and vastly improved voter turnout. In Mississippi alone, voter turnout among Black people increased from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969. In 1970, President Richard Nixon extended the provisions of the Voting Rights Act and lowered the eligible voting age for all voters to 18.

READ MORE: Voting Rights Act of 1965

&mdash President Lyndon B. Johnson, upon signing the Civil Rights Act

On June 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. The Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal.

Congress expanded the act in subsequent years, passing additional legislation in order to move toward more equality for African-Americans, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The end of the Civil War in 1865 brought three constitutional amendments which abolished slavery, made former slaves citizens of the United States, and gave all men the right to vote, regardless of race. However, measures such as literacy tests and poll taxes were used by many states to continue the disenfranchisement of African-Americans and Jim Crow laws helped those same states to enforce segregation and condone race-based violence from groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Many years passed with minimal action taken to enforce civil rights. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy decided it was time to act, proposing the most sweeping civil rights legislation to date.

Voting Rights Act: Major Dates in History

The Voting Rights Act is a historic civil rights law that is meant to ensure that the right to vote is not denied on account of race or color.

1866 Civil Rights Act of 1866 grants citizenship, but not the right to vote, to all native-born Americans.

Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment giving African American men the right to vote.

Louisiana passes "grandfather clauses" to keep former slaves and their descendants from voting. As a result, registered black voters drops from 44.8% in 1896 to 4.0% four years later. Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia follow Louisiana's lead by enacting their own grandfather clauses.

Only 3% of eligible African Americans in the South are registered to vote. Jim Crow laws like literacy tests and poll taxes were meant to keep African Americans from voting.

Here is an example of real literacy test:

The State of Louisiana Literacy Test (this test is to be given to anyone who cannot prove a fifth grade education)

Do what you are told in each statement, nothing more, nothing less.Be careful as one wrong answer denotes failure of the test. You have 10 minutes to complete the test.

  1. Draw a line around the number of letter of this sentence.
  2. Draw a line under the last word of this line.
  3. Cross out the longest word of this line.
  4. Draw a line around the shortest word of this line.
  5. Circle the first, first letter of the alphabet in this line
  6. In the space below draw three circles, one inside by (engulfed by) the other.

Poll taxes are outlawed with the adoption of the 24th Amendment.

Here is an example of a real sign:

Deadline January 31st
Vote! And Protect Your Rights and Privileges
Be Ready for Every Election
Local Options and Other Special Elections are in Prospect for This Year

More than 500 non-violent civil rights marchers are attacked by law enforcement officers while attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to demand the need for African American voting rights.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law, permanently barring barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities, prohibiting any election practice that denies the right to vote on account of race, and requiring jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval for changes in their election laws before they can take effect.

By the end of 1965, 250,000 new black voters are registered, one third of them by federal examiners.

President Richard Nixon signed an extension of the Voting Rights Act.

Nixon: "The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has opened participation in the political process."

Barbara Jordan of Houston and Andrew Young of Atlanta become the first African Americans elected to Congress from the South since Reconstruction.

President Gerald Ford signed an extension of the Voting Rights Act.

President Ronald Reagan signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act.

Due, in part, to the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, the number of black elected officials in Georgia grows to 495 in 1990 from just three prior to the VRA.

Congress extended Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for an additional 25 years.

Restrictions to voting passed in South Carolina, Texas and Florida are found to disproportionately impact minority voters.

2010 to Present
Since 2010 alone, the Department of Justice has had 18 Section 5 objections to voting laws in Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana.

A record number of restrictions to voting were introduced in state legislatures nationwide, including photo ID requirements, cuts to early voting and restrictions to voter registration. Many of these states have histories of voter discrimination and are covered under the VRA.

States requiring federal approval: New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, South Dakota, California, Alaska.

Restrictions to voting passed in South Carolina, Texas and Florida are found to disproportionately impact minority voters.

Florida passed a law that restricts voter registration and made cuts to early voting. The majority of African Americans in Florida rely on early voting to cast a ballot, and register to vote through community based registration.

Photo of and link to a podcast interview with Denese Meteye James, who registered voters in Florida.

Texas passed one of the nation's most restrictive voter ID laws. Under the VRA, the state was required to submit the law to DOJ or the DC federal district court for approval. The court blocked the law, citing racial impact.

Photo reads: Must Show ID to Vote

Under the VRA, the DOJ blocked South Carolina's voter ID law, saying it discriminates against minority voters. The DC federal district court later precleared the law but only because the state agreed that an ID was not required for voting.

Link to Washington Post article "Justice Dept. rejects South Carolina voter ID law, calling it discriminatory."

South Carolina Photo ID Law blocked

South Carolina passed a restrictive voter ID law that would keep more than 180,000 African Americans from casting a ballot.

The ACLU represented the NAACP's Alabama chapter in Shelby v. Holder. In the decision, the Supreme Court crippled one of the most effective protections for the right to vote by rendering ineffective the requirement that certain jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination get pre-approval for voting changes. States have wasted no time enacting potentially discriminatory laws including Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, South Dakota, Iowa, and Indiana.

The good news is that we have the chance to fix it now. Congress can pass a new, flexible and forward-looking set of protections that work together to guarantee our right to vote — and it's not just wishful thinking. Since 2006, Congress extended the key sections of the Voting Rights Act on four occasions in overwhelming, bipartisan votes. Once again, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have come together to work on these critical protections.

Voting Rights Act of 1965

Women were afforded the right to vote by the 19th amendment to the Constitution in 1920. In practice, though, only white women were able to take advantage of this provision. The 1950s and 60s were a time of civil unrest in the U.S. as the civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements gained prominence. As the civil rights movement grew, activists sought equality for African Americans, and voting rights were a major focus. Many states used poll taxes to keep marginalized people from voting. Others enacted grandfather clauses that reinstated the right to vote for many white people who had previously been allowed to vote but were disallowed because they could not pay poll taxes. The 24th Amendment outlawed poll taxes, but while the amendment extended the right to vote to many African Americans, it was not enough.

To voice their discontent with the treatment of African Americans in the U.S., civil rights activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and John Lewis participated in a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965. The event was televised, and the world witnessed the cruelty of state troopers who attacked the peaceful protestors with batons, tear gas, and whips. Some protestors, including Lewis, were beaten until they bled. Others ran for their lives.

Following this pivotal moment in the struggle for voting rights, Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The law outlawed the most common voter suppression tactics and created federal oversight of states and localities with histories of voter discrimination. The act gave Black women, Native Americans, and immigrants the legal right to vote. Many thought this marked the end of voter suppression.

This day in history, June 22: President Richard Nixon signs an extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 lowering the minimum voting age to 18

Today is Tuesday, June 22, the 173rd day of 2021. There are 192 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History:

On June 22, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed an extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that lowered the minimum voting age to 18.

In 1611, English explorer Henry Hudson, his son and several other people were set adrift in present-day Hudson Bay by mutineers aboard the Discovery.

In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated for a second time as Emperor of the French.

In 1870, the United States Department of Justice was created.

In 1937, Joe Louis began his reign as world heavyweight boxing champion by knocking out Jim Braddock in the eighth round of their fight in Chicago. (A year later on this date, Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in the first round of their rematch at Yankee Stadium.)

In 1940, during World War II, Adolf Hitler gained a stunning victory as France was forced to sign an armistice eight days after German forces overran Paris.

In 1941, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive invasion of the Soviet Union.

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more popularly known as the “GI Bill of Rights.”

In 1945, the World War II battle for Okinawa ended with an Allied victory.

In 1969, singer-actor Judy Garland died in London at age 47.

In 1977, John N. Mitchell became the first former U.S. Attorney General to go to prison as he began serving a sentence for his role in the Watergate cover-up. (He was released 19 months later.)

In 1981, Mark David Chapman pleaded guilty to killing rock star John Lennon. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr was deposed as president of Iran.

In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court, in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, unanimously ruled that “hate crime” laws that banned cross burning and similar expressions of racial bias violated free-speech rights.

Ten years ago: President Barack Obama announced in a White House address that he would pull home 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the following summer. James “Whitey” Bulger, the longtime fugitive Boston crime boss and fixture on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, was arrested in Santa Monica, California.

Five years ago: Rebellious Democrats launched a 25-hour round-the-clock sit-in on the House floor to demand votes on gun-control bills, forcing exasperated Republicans to recess while cutting off cameras showing the protest. Dennis Hastert arrived at a Minnesota prison to serve his 15-month sentence in a hush-money case involving revelations that the former House speaker had sexually abused at least four boys when he coached wrestling at an Illinois high school. Chicago’s Patrick Kane won the Hart Trophy, becoming the first player born and trained in the U.S. to be named the NHL’s most valuable player.

One year ago: Mourners filed through Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church for a public viewing of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who’d been fatally shot in the back by a white police officer after a struggle. Protesters tried to pull down a statue of President Andrew Jackson near the White House before being dispersed by police. President Donald Trump said the United States had done “too good a job” on testing for cases of COVID-19 and that it had more cases than other countries because it did more testing. Trump opened a new front in his fight against mail-in voting, making unsubstantiated assertions that foreign countries would print millions of bogus ballots to rig the results. Joel Schumacher, director of the Brat Pack film “St. Elmo’s Fire” and two Batman movies, died in New York at the age of 80 after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Today’s birthdays: Actor Prunella Scales (TV: “Fawlty Towers”) is 89. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is 88. Singer-actor Kris Kristofferson is 85. Movie director John Korty is 85. Actor Michael Lerner is 80. Actor Klaus Maria Brandauer is 78. Fox News analyst Brit Hume is 78. Singer Peter Asher (Peter and Gordon) is 77. Singer Howard “Eddie” Kaylan is 74. Singer-musician Todd Rundgren is 73. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is 72. Actor Meryl Streep is 72. Actor Lindsay Wagner is 72. Singer Alan Osmond is 72. Actor Graham Greene is 69. Pop singer Cyndi Lauper is 68. Actor Chris Lemmon is 67. Rock musician Derek Forbes is 65. Actor Tim Russ is 65. Rock musician Garry Beers (INXS) is 64. Actor-producer-writer Bruce Campbell is 63. Rock musician Alan Anton (Cowboy Junkies) is 62. Actor Tracy Pollan is 61. Environmental activist Erin Brockovich is 61. Rock singer-musician Jimmy Somerville is 60. Basketball Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler is 59. Actor Amy Brenneman is 57. Author Dan Brown is 57. Rock singer-musician Mike Edwards (Jesus Jones) is 57. Rock singer Steven Page is 51. Actor Michael Trucco is 51. Actor Mary Lynn Rajskub (RYS’-kub) is 50. TV personality Carson Daly is 48. Rock musician Chris Traynor is 48. Actor Donald Faison (FAY’-zahn) is 47. Actor Alicia Goranson is 47. Actor-comedian Mike O’Brien (TV: “Saturday Night Live”) is 45. TV personality/actor Jai Rodriguez is 42. Americana singer-songwriter John Moreland is 36. Pop singer Dinah Jane (Fifth Harmony) (TV: “The X Factor”) is 24.

Journalism, it’s often said, is the first-draft of history. Check back each day for what’s new … and old.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC09752 Author/Creator: Associated Press Place Written: Washington, D.C. Type: Photograph Date: 6 August 1965 Pagination: 1 photograph : b&w 20.5 x 20.5 cm.

One wirephoto published by Associated Press dated August 6, 1965. Features President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A newspaper caption pasted to the back of the photograph identify others in the scene, "(from left) Vice President Humphrey, House Majority Leader Albert (behind Humphrey), House Speaker McCormack, Rep. Celler (D-N.Y.), Sen. Hayden (D-Ariz.) (behind Celler), Luci Johnson and Sen. Dirksen (R-IlI.)."

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President Johnson signs Voting Rights Act - HISTORY

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed at removing the rights of states to introduce restrictions to stop certain people voting.

The 1968 Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.

Many states acted quickly to circumvent the law which led to a great feeling of injustice and resentment in the inner cities and the rest of the decade was marred by race riots and assassinations.

Black leader Malcolm X was shot in 1965 and Martin Luther King was killed in 1968.

The black ghetto riots between 1964 and 1968 marked the most prolonged period of unrest in the United States since the American Civil War. They were finally suppressed when tens of thousands of National Guardsmen were sent in to quell them.

Black people continued to remain at a disadvantage when looking for work, and programmes of "affirmative action" were introduced during the 1970s under President Nixon.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 encouraged positive discrimation and allowed lawsuits against employers if their hiring had a "disparate impact" on women or minorities, even if there was no proof of discriminatory intent.

Although the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, guaranteed citizens the right to vote regardless of race, by 1957 only 20 percent of eligible African Americans voted, due in part to intimidation and discriminatory state requirements such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Despite the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on race, religion, national origin, or sex, efforts to register African Americans as voters in the South were stymied. In 1965, following the murder of a voting rights activist by an Alabama sheriff’s deputy and the subsequent attack by state troopers on a massive protest march in Selma, Alabama, President Lyndon B. Johnson pressed Congress in the following speech to pass a voting rights bill with teeth. As Majority Leader of the Senate, Johnson had helped weaken the 1957 Civil Rights Act. When he assumed the presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, however, Johnson called on Americans “to eliminate from this nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based upon race or color,” and in the following speech adopted the “We Shall Overcome” slogan of civil rights activists. His rhetoric and subsequent efforts broke with past presidential precedents of opposition to or lukewarm support for strong civil rights legislation. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law on August 6.

[As delivered in person before a joint session at 9:02 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the Congress:

I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.

I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.

At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.

There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.

There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith in our democracy in what is happening here tonight.

For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great Government—the Government of the greatest Nation on earth.

Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.

In our time we have come to live with moments of great crisis. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression. But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation.

The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.

For with a country as with a person, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans—not as Democrats or Republicans—we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: “All men are created equal”—“government by consent of the governed”—“give me liberty or give me death.” Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives.

Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.

To apply any other test—to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race, his religion or the place of his birth—is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom.

Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish, it must be rooted in democracy. The most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country, in large measure, is the history of the expansion of that right to all of our people.

Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.

Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.

Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on the application.

And if he manages to fill out an application he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of State law. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write.

For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin.

Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books—and I have helped to put three of them there—can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it.

In such a case our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath.


Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote.

The broad principles of that bill will be in the hands of the Democratic and Republican leaders tomorrow. After they have reviewed it, it will come here formally as a bill. I am grateful for this opportunity to come here tonight at the invitation of the leadership to reason with my friends, to give them my views, and to visit with my former colleagues.

I have had prepared a more comprehensive analysis of the legislation which I had intended to transmit to the clerk tomorrow but which I will submit to the clerks tonight. But I want to really discuss with you now briefly the main proposals of this legislation.

This bill will strike down restrictions to voting in all elections—Federal, State, and local—which have been used to deny Negroes the right to vote.

This bill will establish a simple, uniform standard which cannot be used, however ingenious the effort, to flout our Constitution.

It will provide for citizens to be registered by officials of the United States Government if the State officials refuse to register them.

It will eliminate tedious, unnecessary lawsuits which delay the right to vote.

Finally, this legislation will ensure that properly registered individuals are not prohibited from voting.

I will welcome the suggestions from all of the Members of Congress—I have no doubt that I will get some—on ways and means to strengthen this law and to make it effective. But experience has plainly shown that this is the only path to carry out the command of the Constitution.

To those who seek to avoid action by their National Government in their own communities who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections, the answer is simple:

Open your polling places to all your people.

Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin.

Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land.

There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain.

There is no moral issue. It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.

There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.

I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer.

The last time a President sent a civil rights bill to the Congress it contained a provision to protect voting rights in Federal elections. That civil rights bill was passed after 8 long months of debate. And when that bill came to my desk from the Congress for my signature, the heart of the voting provision had been eliminated.

This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, no hesitation and no compromise with our purpose.

We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in. And we ought not and we cannot and we must not wait another 8 months before we get a bill. We have already waited a hundred years and more, and the time for waiting is gone.

So I ask you to join me in working long hours—nights and weekends, if necessary—to pass this bill. And I don’t make that request lightly. For from the window where I sit with the problems of our country I recognize that outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations, and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.

But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. 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 American life.

Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.

As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society.

But a century has passed, more than a hundred years, since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight.

It was more than a hundred years ago that Abraham Lincoln, a great President of another party, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact.

A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal.

A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept.

The time of justice has now come. I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come. And when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American.

For Negroes are not the only victims. How many white children have gone uneducated, how many white families have lived in stark poverty, how many white lives have been scarred by fear, because we have wasted our energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror?

So I say to all of you here, and to all in the Nation tonight, that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future.

This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all: black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are the enemies and not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too, poverty, disease and ignorance, we shall overcome.

Now let none of us in any sections look with prideful righteousness on the troubles in another section, or on the problems of our neighbors. There is really no part of America where the promise of equality has been fully kept. In Buffalo as well as in Birmingham, in Philadelphia as well as in Selma, Americans are struggling for the fruits of freedom.

This is one Nation. What happens in Selma or in Cincinnati is a matter of legitimate concern to every American. But let each of us look within our own hearts and our own communities, and let each of us put our shoulder to the wheel to root out injustice wherever it exists.

As we meet here in this peaceful, historic chamber tonight, men from the South, some of whom were at Iwo Jima, men from the North who have carried Old Glory to far corners of the world and brought it back without a stain on it, men from the East and from the West, are all fighting together without regard to religion, or color, or region, in Viet-Nam. Men from every region fought for us across the world 20 years ago.

And in these common dangers and these common sacrifices the South made its contribution of honor and gallantry no less than any other region of the great Republic—and in some instances, a great many of them, more.

And I have not the slightest doubt that good men from everywhere in this country, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Golden Gate to the harbors along the Atlantic, will rally together now in this cause to vindicate the freedom of all Americans. For all of us owe this duty and I believe that all of us will respond to it.

Your President makes that request of every American.


The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro. His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this Nation. His demonstrations have been designed to call attention to injustice, designed to provoke change, designed to stir reform.

He has called upon us to make good the promise of America. And who among us can say that we would have made the same progress were it not for his persistent bravery, and his faith in American democracy.

For at the real heart of battle for equality is a deep-seated belief in the democratic process. Equality depends not on the force of arms or tear gas but upon the force of moral right not on recourse to violence but on respect for law and order.

There have been many pressures upon your President and there will be others as the days come and go. But I pledge you tonight that we intend to fight this battle where it should be fought: in the courts, and in the Congress, and in the hearts of men.

We must preserve the right of free speech and the right of free assembly. But the right of free speech does not carry with it, as has been said, the right to holler fire in a crowded theater. We must preserve the right to free assembly, but free assembly does not carry with it the right to block public thoroughfares to traffic.

We do have a right to protest, and a right to march under conditions that do not infringe the constitutional rights of our neighbors. And I intend to protect all those rights as long as I am permitted to serve in this office.

We will guard against violence, knowing it strikes from our hands the very weapons which we seek—progress, obedience to law, and belief in American values.

In Selma as elsewhere we seek and pray for peace. We seek order. We seek unity. But we will not accept the peace of stifled rights, or the order imposed by fear, or the unity that stifles protest. For peace cannot be purchased at the cost of liberty.

In Selma tonight, as in every—and we had a good day there—as in every city, we are working for just and peaceful settlement. We must all remember that after this speech I am making tonight, after the police and the FBI and the Marshals have all gone, and after you have promptly passed this bill, the people of Selma and the other cities of the Nation must still live and work together. And when the attention of the Nation has gone elsewhere they must try to heal the wounds and to build a new community.

This cannot be easily done on a battleground of violence, as the history of the South itself shows. It is in recognition of this that men of both races have shown such an outstandingly impressive responsibility in recent days—last Tuesday, again today.


The bill that I am presenting to you will be known as a civil rights bill. But, in a larger sense, most of the program I am recommending is a civil rights program. Its object is to open the city of hope to all people of all races.

Because all Americans just must have the right to vote. And we are going to give them that right.

All Americans must have the privileges of citizenship regardless of race. And they are going to have those privileges of citizenship regardless of race.

But I would like to caution you and remind you that to exercise these privileges takes much more than just legal right. It requires a trained mind and a healthy body. It requires a decent home, and the chance to find a job, and the opportunity to escape from the clutches of poverty.

Of course, people cannot contribute to the Nation if they are never taught to read or write, if their bodies are stunted from hunger, if their sickness goes untended, if their life is spent in hopeless poverty just drawing a welfare check.

So we want to open the gates to opportunity. But we are also going to give all our people, black and white, the help that they need to walk through those gates.


My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes. I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it might help them against the hardships that lay ahead.

Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.

I never thought then, in 1928, that I would be standing here in 1965. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country.

But now I do have that chance—and I’ll let you in on a secret—I mean to use it. And I hope that you will use it with me.

This is the richest and most powerful country which ever occupied the globe. The might of past empires is little compared to ours. But I do not want to be the President who built empires, or sought grandeur, or extended dominion.

I want to be the President who educated young children to the wonders of their world. I want to be the President who helped to feed the hungry and to prepare them to be taxpayers instead of taxeaters.

I want to be the President who helped the poor to find their own way and who protected the right of every citizen to vote in every election.

I want to be the President who helped to end hatred among his fellow men and who promoted love among the people of all races and all regions and all parties.

I want to be the President who helped to end war among the brothers of this earth.

And so at the request of your beloved Speaker and the Senator from Montana the majority leader, the Senator from Illinois the minority leader, Mr. McCulloch, and other Members of both parties, I came here tonight—not as President Roosevelt came down one time in person to veto a bonus bill, not as President Truman came down one time to urge the passage of a railroad bill—but I came down here to ask you to share this task with me and to share it with the people that we both work for. I want this to be the Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, which did all these things for all these people.

Beyond this great chamber, out yonder in 50 States, are the people that we serve. Who can tell what deep and unspoken hopes are in their hearts tonight as they sit there and listen. We all can guess, from our own lives, how difficult they often find their own pursuit of happiness, how many problems each little family has. They look most of all to themselves for their futures. But I think that they also look to each of us.

Above the pyramid on the great seal of the United States it says—in Latin—“God has favored our undertaking.”

God will not favor everything that we do. It is rather our duty to divine His will. But I cannot help believing that He truly understands and that He really favors the undertaking that we begin here tonight.

Also worth watching …

Georgia advanced two measures in the state legislature that would make it harder to vote by mail. One measure would eliminate a provision in state law that allows anyone to vote by mail without an excuse, while another would require each voter to provide a copy of their voter ID during the vote by mail process.

A Republican in the Arizona legislature broke with his party to vote down a measure that would allow the state to remove people from a list of people who automatically receive a mail-in ballot each election.

The US supreme court is set to hear a case from Arizona that could have major implications for the Voting Rights Act. The court, if it wants to, could choose to narrow a section of the Voting Rights Act and make it harder to challenge discriminatory voting laws in the future.

President Johnson signs Voting Rights Act - HISTORY

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 27, 2006

President Bush Signs Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006
The South Lawn

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Good morning. Welcome. Thanks for being here on this special day. Please be seated. America began with a Declaration that all men are created equal. This Declaration marked a tremendous advance in the story of freedom, yet it also contained a contradiction: Some of the same men who signed their names to this self-evident truth owned other men as property. By reauthorizing this act, Congress has reaffirmed its belief that all men are created equal its belief that the new founding started by the signing of the bill by President Johnson is worthy of our great nation to continue. (Applause.)

I'm proud to be here with our Attorney General and members of my Cabinet, the leaders of the United States Senate and House of Representatives. I thank the bill sponsors, I thank the members of the Judiciary Committee. I appreciate so very much representatives of the Hamer family who have joined us -- (applause) -- representatives of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute who have joined us -- (applause) -- and members of the King family, in particular Reverend Bernice King and Martin Luther King, thank you all for coming. (Applause.)

I'm honored to be here with civil rights leaders like Dr. Dorothy Height -- (applause) -- Julian Bond, the Chairman of the NAACP -- (applause) -- Bruce Gordon, thank you Bruce -- (applause) -- Reverend Lowery, it's good to see you again, sir -- (applause) -- fortunately I got the mic this time. (Laughter.) I'm proud to be here with Marc Morial. Thanks for coming Marc. (Applause.) Juanita Abernathy is with us today. Jesse Jackson, good to see you, Jesse. (Applause.) Al Sharpton -- (applause) -- Dr. Benjamin Hooks and Frances are with us. (Applause.)

A lot of other folks who care deeply about this issue. We welcome you here. It's good to welcome the mayor. Mr. Mayor, good to see you. Thanks for coming. Tony Williams. (Applause.) Everything is fine in the neighborhood, I appreciate it. (Laughter.) And the Mayor of Selma, Alabama, James Perkins, is with us. Mr. Mayor, proud you're here. (Applause.) Welcome, sir.

The right of ordinary men and women to determine their own political future lies at the heart of the American experiment, and it is a right that has been won by the sacrifice of patriots. The Declaration of Independence was born on the stand for liberty taken at Lexington and Concord. The amendments to our Constitution that outlawed slavery and guaranteed the right to vote came at the price of a terrible civil war.

The Voting Rights Act that broke the segregationist lock on the ballot box rose from the courage shown on a Selma bridge one Sunday afternoon in March of 1965. On that day, African Americans, including a member of the United States Congress, John Lewis -- (applause) -- marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a protest intended to highlight the unfair practices that kept them off the voter rolls.

The brutal response showed America why a march was necessary. When the marchers reached the far side of the bridge, they were met by state troopers and civilian posse bearing billy clubs and whips -- weapons they did not hesitate to use. The images of policemen using night sticks on peaceful protestors were carried on television screens across the country, and they stung the conscience of a slumbering America.

One week after Selma, President Lyndon Johnson took to the airwaves to announce that he planned to submit legislation that would bring African Americans into the civic life of our nation. Five months after Selma, he signed the Voting Rights Act into law in the Rotunda of our nation's capitol. (Applause.) In a little more than a year after Selma, a newly enfranchised black community used their power at the ballot box to help defeat the sheriff who had sent men with whips and clubs to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on that bloody Sunday.

For some parts of our country, the Voting Rights Act marked the first appearance of African Americans on the voting rolls since Reconstruction. And in the primaries and elections that followed the signing of this act, many African Americans pulled the voting lever for the first time in their lives.

Eighty-one year old Willie Bolden was the grandson of slaves, and in the spring of 1966, he cast his first ballot in Alabama's Democratic primary. He told a reporter, "It felt good to me. It made me think I was sort of somebody." In the America promised by our founders, every citizen is a somebody, and every generation has a responsibility to add its own chapter to the unfolding story of freedom. (Applause.)

In four decades since the Voting Rights Act was first passed, we've made progress toward equality, yet the work for a more perfect union is never ending. We'll continue to build on the legal equality won by the civil rights movement to help ensure that every person enjoys the opportunity that this great land of liberty offers. And that means a decent education and a good school for every child, a chance to own their own home or business, and the hope that comes from knowing that you can rise in our society by hard work and God-given talents. (Applause.)

Today, we renew a bill that helped bring a community on the margins into the life of American democracy. My administration will vigorously enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in court. (Applause.) This legislation is named in honor of three heroes of American history who devoted their lives to the struggle of civil rights: Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King. (Applause.) And in honor of their memory and their contributions to the cause of freedom, I am proud to sign the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. (Applause.)

On this day, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is signed

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act, a centerpiece of the civil rights movement that is still the subject of debate.

The Voting Rights Act&rsquos origins were in the 15th Amendment&rsquos 1870 ratification. &ldquoThe 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 race, color, or previous condition of servitude,&rdquo read the amendment&rsquos first section.

However, Reconstruction&rsquos end in 1877 with the &ldquoCompromise of 1877&rdquo led to an era where mostly former Confederate states used violence, intimidation, legal maneuvers, and poll taxes to keep African-Americans away from the polls.

By the 1940s, a series of court decisions and Congressional acts started to wear down these tactics. In 1962, the Supreme Court decided in Baker v. Carr that the federal courts could intervene in state voter reapportionment cases. And in Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the Court upheld the idea of one person, one vote, and equal representation in state legislatures based on population.

Still, violence persisted in the states where blacks were continually blocked from voting. Then, on March 7, 1965, civil rights activists were attacked by Alabama police near a bridge in Selma, Alabama, in a moment that shocked a nation and helped lead to the Voting Rights Act.

A crowd of about 600 people had gathered near the Edmund Pettus Bridge to start a 54-mile march to Montgomery, Alabama, aiming to raise awareness about the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson. Jackson had been shot three weeks earlier by an Alabama state trooper while protecting his mother during a voting rights march.

Led by Hosea Williams and John Lewis, the group walked over the Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery. In full view of journalists and photographers, the group was then attacked by Alabama state police and a posse acting under the orders of Alabama Governor George Wallace. The police gave the group two minutes to leave the scene the protesters opted to pray. The violent events that followed soon became known as &ldquoBloody Sunday.&rdquo

Absent from the first march was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was at his Atlanta church at the time. King quickly told reporters that he was heading to Selma to lead a second march. King also said he would seek restraining orders against Wallace and state police in federal court.

The second march at Selma on March 9 was short and ceremonial, as civil rights leaders waited for legal support. Dr. King led marchers over the Pettus Bridge and back to a church where the march began. Tragically, segregationists attacked three white ministers who took part in the march as they were eating dinner later that night, killing the Rev. James Reeb.

Earlier, President Lyndon Johnson had presented a draft of the Voting Rights Act to Congress. President Johnson had hoped that Governor Wallace would use the National Guard in Alabama to protect activists in an upcoming third march, but Wallace refused, saying the state couldn&rsquot afford the expense of supplying the troops.

For the third march, President Johnson sent 3,000 federal troops to Selma, and he federalized the National Guard there. A group of 8,000 people set off from Selma, and four days later, their numbers had swelled to 25,000 as they arrived in Montgomery.

In August 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. The act contained language similar to the 15th Amendment. It also required that areas of the country that had a history of discrimination receive pre-clearance of any voting-procedure changes from the federal government. The act has been renewed several times by Congress since 1975.

However, the 2013 Supreme Court decision of Shelby County v. Holder eliminated a critical part of the act&rsquos preclearance formula for regions, saying it didn&rsquot relate to current conditions in areas where discrimination was once rampant. But the decision noted that Congress had the power to establish a substitute formula if needed.