By: Michael Holloman
On this day 50 years ago, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The legislation was a response to the vile tactics used by state and local governments to keep African Americans from voting and was described by
President Johnson as “a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield.”
The period before the signing of this landmark legislation had been marked by hardship due to the excessive discrimination that African Americans faced. Despite the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many African Americans could not steadily exercise their right to vote due to discriminatory restrictions placed on them at voting polls nationwide. Many state and local governments enacted grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests and other tactics to keep African Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote.
In response to this treatment, many across the nation began to speak out against the incendiary treatment they faced. The most prominent example being the Selma to Montgomery marches which helped to spur the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 required certain states and jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices to obtain federal preclearance before enacting any election changes. In 2013, the Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used for deciding pre-clearance jurisdictions was unconstitutional. They reasoned that the formula was outdated and was not representative of the United States’ progress in the area of voting rights.
No less than 24 hours after this ruling many states including Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi announced new restrictive voting rights legislation. As a result, many of the states who were once under the watchful eye of the Department of Justice before Shelby County v. Holder now maintain strict voter ID and early voting laws that have a disparate impact on poor and minority communities.
Despite setbacks, it is imperative that African Americans use their voting power to make a major difference in upcoming local, state, and national elections. Doing so will not only allow us to be more engaged politically but also honor the legacy of those who gave their lives for the right to vote.
This is an important day of reflection for our country. All Americans should take the time to not only reflect on how far we have come, but also how far we need to go.
Michael is a native of Norfolk, Virginia and a rising senior at Norfolk State University where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Journalism. At NSU Michael is a Presidential Scholar within the Honors College and Vice President of the pre-law chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity. He aims to dedicate his life to public service and empower all communities through civic engagement and education.