Fifty-six years ago today, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The need for the law was explained in its full title: “An Act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution, and for other purposes.” In the wake of the Civil War, Americans tried to create a new nation in which the law treated Black men and white men as equals. In 1865, they ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing enslavement except as punishment for crimes. In 1868, they adjusted the Constitution again, guaranteeing that anyone born or naturalized in the United States—except certain Indigenous Americans—was a citizen, opening up the suffrage to Black men. In 1870, after Georgia legislators expelled their newly seated Black colleagues, Americans defended the right of Black men to vote by adding that right to the Constitution.
My father was a supply officer in the Army in WWII. While stationed in England, his unit was a group of black men. My dad was raised in a small town in Northern Minnesota. A first generation American, he was taught that all men are created equal. Though his fellow officers shunned him, my dad carried out his duties and made certain the men under his command did their jobs and did them well.
While filling a requisition, my dad was informed that certain supplies were missing. Dad informed his commanding officer. Two days later, one of the black men in my dad’s unit Willam, was arrested for the crime.
My dad defended his unit vociferously enough that he was also thrown in the brig and had his rank busted back to private (he was a captain). He spent several weeks awaiting his court marshall. Meanwhile, more supplies went missing - of course.
At a party one weekend, another officer overheard a certain lieutenant bragging about how great it was to have “gifts” for his new mistress. The lieutenant was turned in, he confessed, and my dad and Willam were released and my dad’s rank was restored. But dad became much more vocal that the men in his unit were also Americans and deserved to be treated with respect. As you’d expect, that did not go over well.
I was born in 1954 - Brown vs the Board of Education. In 1964, after the Civil Rights act was passed, my parents broke out the champagne. I don’t remember a time when equal rights and voting rights weren’t front and center in Sunday after-dinner discussions nor a time that my parents didn’t use “current” events to start discussions about important policy issues like civil rights, women’s rights, and in our house, protecting the environment (mom was a science and math teacher). Fast forward 60 years and here we are- in the midst of furious efforts to restrict voting and control who wins national elections. Unbelievable as it seems, we are back to having to work our collective butts off to ensure that voting rights are secure and no one has the power to summarily overturn the will of the people.
So today, I will gather with other activists to discuss what actions are needed and where we can apply pressure. Tomorrow, I will be gathering donated kids clothing for children in the White Earth Indian reservation. Like many Indigenous nations, White Earth was hammered by COVID. Kids lost parents, grandparents and guardians, and too many people lost jobs. Since school is coming up, my neighbor, who grew up on White Earth, asked for help for her family and friends. It isn’t much but we hope that providing clothing, back packs with school supplies and a few fun things like new knitted and crocheted hats, mittens and blankets will help.
It helps me to do something- anything that I am able to do. Otherwise, anger and anxiety take over. I am represented, at every level of government, by Democrats. But I haver never felt less secure.
Passing the For The People Act and the Hohn Lewis voting rights act is critical. What more can we do to make this happen?
Today's summary of the entire history of voter rights, in the context of today's events, is precisely why I joined here and remain an enthusiastic member of HCR's "Letters" digital publication.
Thank you. I have sent it to everyone I know, independent of their interest in history.
I learned none, zero, of the contents of today's history lesson in my formal education process.
"It’s everybody’s input, not just mine, but I think mine, maybe...got us all talking and rolling in the direction that we had to go back to basics,”...so says Manchin. Such hubris. He should get any credit for turning the tide if that should happen. Holding out on the filibuster has just given the rethuglicans more time to put all these voter suppression laws in place. To think that a particular group can change the outcome of a vote in a particular state is appalling. Manchin and (diva)Cinema need to get off the ego train and do what's right for the country!
Manchin has a seriously overinflated sense of himself. So, he's one of the two Senators preventing a takedown of the filibuster but wait - he claims he's also the reason that they are now talking about voting rights? There is a phrase for this level of arrogance but it is not fit to print.
Does anyone else find it deeply ironic, (as well as deeply disturbing) that in the 1870s, "their objection to Black voting was that Black men, just out of enslavement, were poor and uneducated", and yet today, "more than two thirds of Republican voters don’t think voting is a right and believe it can be limited," a stunning, yet glaring example of ignorance born of a lack of education.
I’ve plopped myself down in the middle of a voters suppression situation this week. I need a new license. And since it’s been a few years since I did it in person, I can’t do it online. I couldn’t get an appointment before school starts so I decided to take my chances at standing in line to get a spot. I arrived at 6:30 for 7:00am opening and they were turning people away. So I went up to ask what time do people line up. A heated discussion was starting, people were angry! Felt like a fight was going to start! They’d been there since 4AM! What! So people who don’t already have a license have to get an appointment in person. People who can’t take time off work have limited days they can get to the DMV. The employee turning people away was not sympathetic! When she told me 4 am, I said I’m not doing that that’s not safe! You’d have thought I slapped her. It never occurred to her it wasn’t safe. I’ve written to the DMV and two local mayors. The mayor of the city for this DMV said he had no idea people were there in the middle of the night and will start having police patrol the area. But he did not agree with me that this was voter suppression. It’s always been bad and why would Governor Abbott be involved with voter suppression. Indeed! So I called on him to use his office to fix this mess. In Texas you must have a state ID to vote. If the working class and new to the state can’t get in the door to get an ID or license, they can’t vote. I told him it is up to citizens to fix this for the sake of our fragile democracy.
Appointments end at 3:15! Half staff on Fridays, not open on the weekends. It is definitely against the groups of people that would lean towards being Democrats. But so many people are angry with Abbott right now it might not matter! Such a doofus!
I have an appointment and will take off work, but plenty of hardworking people don’t have that option. Seems like one attempt at voter suppression to me!
'As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman made several trips into slave-holding states, leading dozens of individuals to freedom in the North. During the Civil War, she further risked her life and safety to work first as a nurse and then as a spy for the Union Army. Afterwards, she became an outspoken advocate for African American and women's rights, insisting that all be afforded dignity, treated with respect and granted equality.' (National Women's History Museum)
'Back to basics is a very good idea indeed.' (Letter)
'I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.' (Harriet Tubman)
This is the succinct, clear, thorough summary of voting rights in America that I've been waiting for, to help me make sense of the issue when I'm talking to other people. HCR put in the time, marshaled the facts, did the scholarship; we can carry the message.
Thank you Dr. R for another great history lesson! Your last paragraph sums it up nicely-
“ Back to basics is a very good idea indeed. The basic idea that we cannot have equality before the law without equal access to the ballot gave us the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and established the power of the federal government over the states to enforce them.”
It sounds to me like the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments give the Federal Government the power to challenge the state laws limiting voter access. It is my fervent hope that the Feds will take full advantage of the power afforded them to do just that.
Let's remember how the Voting Rights Act came to be, as told by Andrew Young.
In February 1965 Young and MLK Jr met with LBJ to argue in favor of a Voting Rights Act. LBJ told them he agreed with them on all points, but didn't have the power to get it through Congress after all the political capital he had spent getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed. When they left, Young asked King what he thought they should do, to which King replied "We're going to get the president some power." The result was the Selma-Montgomery March and the police riot at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The photos of people being beaten - nearly to death in the case of John Lewis - for the crime of wanting to vote changed the political tone of the country (it changed so much even I could tell it had changed, from way over across the sea in Vietnam). That gave Johnson the power to declare in April that "... we SHALL overcome!" It took four months to get there.
I think if the Texas Democrats went back and got arrested by Abbott for wanting to protect people's right to vote, that might create the crisis that breaks the logjam today. Of course, since I am sitting here safe in Los Angeles, I'm not going to tell them "why don't you and them fight?"
Jane Mayer was interviewed this week by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. She has a new article in this week's New Yorker about the Republican's campaign to change state election laws. I haven't read the article yet as my copy is still sitting in my PO box, but the interview was very interesting. A couple weeks ago, another LFAA commentor noted that the voter suppression laws are not good but the really scary thing is the new legislation to empower state legislatures to overturn elections at will, and Mayer talks about that in this interview. As always, she follows the dark money.
"The basic idea that we cannot have equality before the law without equal access to the ballot gave us the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and established the power of the federal government over the states to enforce them."
The federal government must have the huevos and a federal judiciary capable of enforcing the constitution and said amendments. Roberts, apparently a lackey for the Federalist Society, is without said huevos, perhaps actively collaborating with the insurrection.
From the external perspective, congresscritters are slothful, without some gathering vision of futuring, leaving the populace wondering.
IMHO, we need someone speaking fiercely toward unity incorporating a litany of topics from voting rights to climate change to true infrastructure to equity to a society without oppression. There is a unified message as it is a concept of caring encompassing ALL of us ALL the time.
I could rant (preach) on, but this is the choir...love to you all!
I've just begun reading the four volume biography of LBJ by Robert Caro. Since I live in the Hill Country of Texas about an hour from the LBJ Ranch it is almost eerie to read the history of the Hill Country. It was a semi-arid grassland before the white man unwittingly destroyed that ecosystem by trying cotton (not enough rain) and then cattle herding (cattle ate the grass protecting a thin layer of soil which blew away and allowed cedar to take over) leaving the farmers and cattlemen poor and trapped by the annual cycle of financing the crops and herds. Talk about a miniature climate crisis destroyed by Euro man. My primary reason for reading this is to figure out how the Voting Rights Act was signed by an old white southern boy, LBJ. Why did he support such a forward reaching bill? What incentive did he have to make it happen? My Texas state representative is the grandson of Coke Stevens, a former Governor of Texas. Coke Stevens ran against LBJ for the U.S. Senate. LBJ won by sixty votes. When I commented to my representative about how just thirty-one votes would have changed the outcome. He replied, "Yes, I wouldn't exist." When his grandfather lost he went to Junction Texas and married my reps grandmother. It makes one appreciate how much every vote can count! Enough for tonight; I have some reading to do...
People my age and younger, have taken this right for granted. Especially the younger. It's amazing that this right is even up for debate during this time. I'm quite sure the majority of the younger aren't even aware of all what you have stated here. Education is the key. I guess that's why the 'far right' are going after education.
The weight of history can feel soul-crushing! Each time progress was made in civil rights and voting rights, I thought "well now, this is settled!" But it wasn't! I was so excited about Obama's election as the first Black president and I thought "well now, this is settled; this can be just the first one."
However, the hate and resentment in the Senate under McConnell guaranteed that Obama would be disrespected and treated as just another Black man; one who wasn't worthy of being president.
I wish I could say that I trust Congress to save our democracy though corrective legislation, but I have my doubts.
The visceral, palpable hatred toward blacks and browns is a stain of shame that will forever be an imprint on our Republic. I grew up in the 1950s in farm country. We were never taught to be prejudiced, but the lines between white and black were clear yet invisible.
My first supervisor in the Air Force was a black man. I recall, somewhat vaguely at this point, having many animated conversations with him. A black fellow Airman, Eddie (his last name is lost to the vestiges of my mental history!) was a friend. One day he asked me if I liked him because I liked him. Or, did I like him because it was "cool" for whites to like blacks. I was somewhat surprised; somewhat offended. That was 1964. I responded that I liked him as a person; period. I did not need notches in my belt or trophy friends. Eddie smiled, reassured.
Now in my seventies, I have yet to understand the intolerance and hate among so many white folk. The hatred of blacks, browns, Jews, homosexuals along with the relegation of women to second class status comprises the trademark of the Republicans. They simply cannot tolerate difference. They embrace the all-consuming dogma of white privilege and power. Accepting the shift and change taking place across the land has white Republicans in a frenzy. Woody Guthrie's "This land is your land and this land is my land" rings hollow. Republicans do not want diversity, and they continue to work vigorously to deny diversity from taking its rightful place in our society and culture. They would be shocked to learn that we all were brown or black at one time in our human history. They would kill a nation to perpetuate their myth of white is right and anything different or “other” is wrong. The fires of hatred frame the villainy of the Republicans.