August 6, 2021

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.

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