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Voting Rights Act brought big changes

Jun 27, 2013 - By Connie Cass, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The voting law that became a major turning point in black Americans' struggle for equal rights and political power is now outdated, the Supreme Court says.

Whether that's a marker of racial progress or proof of backsliding will be hotly debated. But neither side denies that remarkable changes were wrought through the nearly half-century-old Voting Rights Act.

As the issue moves to Congress, a look at the law's history:

15th Amendment

The right to vote, for American men at least, was supposed to be guaranteed when the 15th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution after the Civil War.

The amendment says: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Freed slaves began voting and even winning office, but former Confederate states came up with tactics to evade the 15th Amendment.

These literacy tests, poll taxes and other discriminatory laws, as well as intimidation and violence, continued for decades. In 1940, only 3 percent of eligible blacks in the South were registered to vote, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nearly a century after the amendment was ratified in 1870, the civil rights movement forced the nation to acknowledge the injustice.

The march from Selma

Activists who tried to help blacks register in the South in the 1960s were met with violence. The fatal shooting of a demonstrator by a law officer in Alabama inspired the idea of a march to the state capital on March 7, 1965.

Hundreds of marchers on their way to Montgomery were clubbed and tear-gassed by state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge near Selma. TV news cameras captured what became known as "Bloody Sunday."

Protesters across the country rallied in support of the marchers. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. flew to Selma to lead demonstrations. And President Lyndon Johnson seized the momentum to propel the Voting Rights Act through Congress.

He signed it into law on Aug. 6, 1965.

Voting Rights Act

The law outlawed racial discrimination against voters in local, state and federal elections.

Some entire states, as well as counties in other states, were subjected to special federal enforcement, based on a formula used to weigh their record on voting rights. They had to get approval in advance before they could make even minor changes to voting laws, such as moving polling places.

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