Social Change and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

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Less than fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This landmark piece of legislation served as a major accomplishment for the Civil Rights Movement and sparked social change in voting practices in the United States.

It is hard to talk about voting rights for African Americans without considering history. From slavery, to Jim Crow, to separate but “equal”, from bombings to beatings to murder, for example, we have to consider all of the things that helped to create the need for the Movement and the Act.

Let’s go back to 1965. At this point, the Civil Rights Movement was going strong and full of action. One of the most powerful tools used during this time was storytelling through film. Yes, there were stories told via articles and word of mouth, but the video stories of the Movement were extremely powerful. The video of Bloody Sunday gave the Movement both national and international coverage and helped put pressure on President Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act. This legislation was needed to help create a more equitable voting process.

Fast forward 47 years to 2012 to Shelby County, AL v. Holder, Attorney General, et al. This sparked another social change. Today, Tuesday, June 25th, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled on this case. Five of the nine justices voted to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Now certain states and jurisdictions are not required to go through federal screening, or pre-clearance, before changing their voting laws. Section 4 was designed to ensure African American and other “minoritized” individuals were not discriminated against during the voting process. The power to decide if anything else will be done concerning this decision is now in the hands of congress.

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