Protect The Voting Rights Act
NBJC Honors & Recommits to the Legacy of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the Pursuit of Justice
August 6, 2018, marks the 53rd Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
(VRA), which laid the foundation upon which our nation continues to move closer toward the promise of liberty and justice for all, including African Americans whose ancestors built this country for free. Fueled by the Freedom Summer (1964
) and the horrific events of Bloody Sunday (1965
), the VRA was the product of Black organizers and allies within the federal government working together, with indigenous organizers throughout the country, to overcome the many efforts of Southern states to deny the voting rights of Black Americans. Ratified in 1867, the 15th Amendment of the US Constitution provided that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged” on the basis of race; however, for nearly 100 years after its ratification, white state officials illegally denied Black, and other people of color, from voting—a battle we remain actively engaged in.
The Voting Rights Act has been a powerful tool in dismantling the legal barriers that prohibit so many citizens from participating in our most essential democratic process. Heralded as one the most consequential civil rights law enacted, the VRA enabled the enfranchisement of millions who had been stripped of this precious right and more importantly, diversified the electorate and legislative bodies across the nation. At the time of the VRA's passage in 1965, there were six Black members of the U.S. House of Representatives and no Blacks serving in the U.S. Senate. By 1971, there were 13 Black members of the House and one Black member of the Senate. All of these newly elected Black Members of Congress were living manifestations of the VRA and demonstrate the political power that resides in voting, especially for Black people. The foundation established by the VRA has also supported subsequent legislation that has advanced rights and ensured access and protections for individuals with disabilities as well as LGBTQ people.
In recent years, there have been renewed assault on the VRA. The impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to weaken and remove critical elements of the VRA in 2013 were seen during the 2016 presidential election cycle. Consider for example, in 2016 40% (or 55 million) eligible voters did not show up to vote. In addition, districts within several southern states changed the location of polling sites and/or revised voter ID requirements without federal approval—efforts designed to confuse and prevent voters from exercising their right to vote. Voter suppression tactics are a direct assault on people of color, low-income people and other marginalized communities. Voter suppression tactics are designed to make it difficult for historically disenfranchised citizens to vote. Voter suppression and intimidation efforts aimed at Black and Latino voters, employed during recent elections, have no place in our democracy and we must elect and support public leaders who understand and act in ways that affirm the importance of every American citizen having equal access to shared rights under the law—including the fundamental right to vote.
At the National Black Justice Coalition, we work everyday in the pursuit of liberty and justice for all, especially those among us most often neglected and ignored. We understand the importance of what one of the Mothers of the Civil Rights Movement, Fannie Lou Hammer attempted to teach us, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free!” It is with this radically inclusive call to action that we celebrate the 53rd Anniversary of the VRA and invite you to join us in a ensuring our communities are ready to vote in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections and beyond!
In love and continued struggle,
David J. Johns