Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which has been both sword and shield for racial equity and inclusive democracy. And yet today, the right to vote for millions of Americans is in more danger than at any time since the passage of the law, thanks to the Supreme Court decision two years ago that struck down the most important part of the law and cleared the way for states to enact targeted voting restrictions.
Just six months after Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, when nonviolent civil rights marchers were attacked in Selma, Alabama, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The fight to realize political rights for people of color has been a story of advances and regressions, constructions, reconstructions, and deconstructions. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “Give Us the Ballot” address in 1957, noting the opposition to the Brown v. Board of Education decision and practice of “nullification” throughout the South. He indicted the continuing practices in which “all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.”