Declare official Voting Rights dayPublished 8:44pm Thursday, August 1, 2013
We must declare August 6 as National Voting Rights Day. The reasons are many. Let me share a few with you.
August 6, 1965, was the day President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. It was a momentous occasion so a special signing ceremony was held in the Capitol Rotunda. This is just one of many reasons to declare August 6 as National Voting Rights Day.
The Voting Rights Act was concrete fruit of overcoming the impossible. Almost every politician and political pundit said that no meaningful Voting Rights Act could pass the U. S. Congress in 1965 or anytime soon. Of course, that was before Bloody Sunday, the day Alabama State Troopers, Dallas County Deputy Sheriffs, armed posse-men and others beat some 550 persons – women and children as well as men – until blood ran down the Edmund Pettus Bridge and U.S. Highway 80 East. Then the impossible became possible. When President Johnson called for a strong Voting Rights Act, the possible became probable. Aug. 6 is the day the impossible became reality. The reasons are many for August 6 being declared National Voting Rights Day.
The Voting Rights Act became the most effective and successful civil rights legislation ever enacted by the United States Congress. It transformed the voting rights rolls of all or parts of 16 states. For example, in Alabama, there were thousands of registered voters before passage of the Voting Rights Act. Now there are hundreds of thousands.
The Voting Rights Act transformed the political picture in the United States of America.
Before Aug 6, 1965 there were very few Black elected officials in the United States. Now there are tens of thousands, not including Hispanics and other minority elected officials springing from the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act transformed Whites who sought public office as well. Before Aug. 6, Whites were elected to office by being publicly anti-African American. After Aug. 6, some of these same politicians came begging for Black votes. The most famous was Governor George Wallace who built a national reputation on attacking African Americans. He later apologized and begged for Black votes to get re-elected governor of Alabama.
The Voting Rights Act made possible the election of many Whites and African Americans who would otherwise not have been elected. Among those are Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, to name just a few. The entire political culture was transformed. The reasons are many for Aug. 6 being declared National Voting Rights Day.
The Voting Rights Act helped America take a giant step toward a more perfect union. It gave meaning to the phrase in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” It gave life to the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution which ended slavery, established citizenship for all and enshrined the right to vote. It made America more of the democracy it claimed to be.
The Voting Rights Act is a symbol for this country and the world of the centrality of the right to vote in any democracy. It made Selma, laL and the Edmund Pettus Bridge international symbols for the right to vote. March 7, the day Bloody Sunday occurred, and March 26, the day the Selma to Montgomery March ended on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol, are very important dates.
However, Aug. 6 gave America a concrete victory springing from the mighty voting rights struggles that occurred in Alabama and across the South. The reasons are many for Aug. 6 being declared National Voting Rights Day.
Voting Rights are under severe and persistent attacks by many state legislatures as well as the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court recently gutted Section 5, the very heart of the Voting Rights Act. Therefore, we are in great danger of losing the right to vote. We must project a determined commitment to maintain and expand the right to vote for everyone.
A National Voting Rights Day lifts not only the history of voting rights but the living spirit of voting rights. That spirit can infect generations for years to come.
Finally, the right to vote protects all other rights. It is the ultimate “right’s guard.” Such a critical right deserves a day of its own in the National Sun. Yes, there are many reasons why Aug. 6 must be declared National Voting Rights Day. I have shared a few with you. I invite you to add your own reasons to the few I have shared.
Epilogue – Sometimes a good idea comes to us in the span of a moment. Other times it comes after much thought and struggle. There is no relationship between the value of an idea and the time and effort it takes to come.