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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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Voting Rights Act turns 50, activism continues


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U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and marched at Selma, is one of many who is using this 50th anniversary to call for revitalization of the Voting Rights Act. | Courtesy of Getty Images


The 1960s were tumultuous.  Among other things, the civil rights movement was in full swing and integration was slowly – and sometimes violently – making progress.

After years of rising national tension, the murder of several voting rights activists and the attack on marchers in Selma, Alabama, it appeared to some that the 15th amendment was insufficient to protecting the voting rights of black citizens.

Fifty years ago today, in 1965, President Lyndon B Johnson signed a landmark piece of legislation that granted black citizens and other minorities access to voting.  It declared poll taxes, unreasonable literacy tests and other means of disenfranchisement unconstitutional.

“When President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act 50 years ago, it was one of the achievements that he was most proud of during his years as president,” said Honors College political science professor Alison Leland.

“Now it’s still a largely unresolved issue. There are really strong feelings that we don’t need it, that the work is done and others who feel a moral imperative to continue it.”

In 1970, 1975 and 2006, Congress renewed the special provisions of Section 5 of the act.  Under Section 5, certain Southern states with a strong history of discrimination and resistance to integration – including Texas – could not implement revisions to voting laws without federal oversight.

As this week marks 50 years of the Voting Rights Act, glimpses of that activism still appear.

On Wednesday, the Texas voter ID law was struck down by a federal appeals panel, saying it was discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act, according to the New York Times.

The Texas law has caused much fuss in the state and the country, and “is regarded by many experts as the strictest of its kind in the country.”

But Leland doesn’t seem to feel any hopelessness when the nation and its people are faced with such obstacles.

“What often ends up happening, though, is when there are laws restricting voting, it ends up motivating people to vote,” she said.

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