The national commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act takes place against the backdrop of a devastating full-scale assault on the civil rights movement’s signature legislation.
For African Americans, the passage of the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965, represented the culmination of a centuries-long struggle for citizenship. President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the legislation, designed to end a century of voter disfranchisement in the South and other parts of the nation, was inspired by grassroots protests and organizing that gripped the nation. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts in Selma, Ala., linked a local campaign for voting rights to a national movement to redefine American democracy.
The VRA ended decades of voter disfranchisement by mandating federal oversight of states with the most egregious records of racial discrimination at the polls. By the 1970s and 1980s, a new generation of black elected officials emerged at the local, state and national levels as African Americans emerged as power brokers capable of leading major urban cities (Atlanta, Detroit, Newark, N.J., Los Angeles and New York) and influence federal policy through the actions of the Congressional Black Caucus.
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