Editorial: 50 years later, Voting Rights Act under attack

Editorial: 50 years later, Voting Rights Act under attack
August 06
00:00 2015

Cartoon by Ron Rogers for the Winston-Salem Chronicle

2015 has been a year of milestones, from an African-American president of the United States marching in the re-enactment of the final march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to Confederate flags being taken down off government property.

Today (Aug. 6) is another milestone.

It is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the measure into law on Aug. 6, 1965.

The law was designed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels, especially in the South, that prevented African-Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, such as paying a poll tax.

It is considered among the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history.

Who would have thought that 50 years later, African-Americans would be again fighting for the rights our forefathers gained through blood, sweat and tears?

On Monday, July 13, the trial in the lawsuit N.C. NAACP vs. McCrory began.

It ended Friday, July 31.

This trial challenged the repressive acts of the North Carolina General Assembly to roll back voting rights gained under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The lawmakers acted in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted part of the Voting Rights Act.

Chief Justice John Roberts said at the time that times have changed, so Section 4(b) – which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting– is invalid and needs to be revised. Congress has yet to revise it.

On July 30 in Winston-Salem, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) held a screening of a documentary it made, titled, “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot.”

It focuses on the participation of high school students and teachers in Selma in events that led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act becoming law. (It will be shown again at the Winston-Salem Urban League on Friday, Aug. 7 at 9:30 a.m.)

What was striking about this documentary was how young people took a stand, even though they couldn’t vote.

As they walked out of their segregated high school to protest, they held signs that advocated for their parents, seeking the right for them to register.

They were arrested along with adults and sent to jail.

Fifty years later, those students are adults in their later years of life.

Fifty years later, their counterparts in North Carolina see the government pass a law to suppress the voting rights gained over 50 years.

Why do older African-American people anywhere have to grapple with the basic right of voting all over again?

Because the same elements and mindset that want to keep African-Americans from voting are still around.

A discussion on voting rights was held after the SPLC documentary was shown.

One African-American man in the audience said he was only 3 years old when the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed, but he has faced racist comments on the job in 2015.

He said a white co-worker, who is the same age as he is, told him that racism would go away if African-Americans didn’t create it. The Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the N.C. NAACP, revealed in a Forum piece in The Chronicle last week that the N.C. NAACP received an email note that said: “blacks should not hold so much hate about their past as slaves confederate flags and historical monuments. they should rather embrace their past. If it had not went the way it did, u would still be in Africa dying of hunger, aids and ebola.think about it. slavery was your ticket to the best country in the world.., yet u bitch, wine and complain ,barber enough is never enough. I don’t think blacks really hate items from the past, rather I think u people hate yourselves” [actual grammar, spelling and punctuation used]

These racist views remain in the minds of people and governments in the United States of America and North Carolina.

So, the fight for voting rights continues.

Will it still be going on 50 years from now?

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