City ready to honor Voting Rights Act

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Ninety-five years after the passage of the 15th Amendment, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed into a law an act to enforce voting rights for every one regardless of race on August 6, 1965.

Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 southern blacks faced terrible hardships as they attempted to gain their right to vote. Johnson’s signature finally outlawed many of the tools used to disenfranchise southern blacks, such as literacy tests.

In pushing Congress for the act, Johnson, no doubt spurned by unrest in places like Selma, Birmingham and others, said every American deserves the right to vote.

The signing of the law made an immediate difference. In four months, 250,000 new black voters were registered.

Within a year and a half only four out of the 13 southern states had fewer than half of the black population registered to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was re-adopted and strengthened in 1970, 1975, and 1982, portions of the act are scheduled to run out in 2007.

It was Selma’s integral role in the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which gave The Democracy Project President the Rev. Lawrence Wofford an idea.

Working through a summer leadership program at Harvard Divinity School , Wofford created the National Conference Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which will be held this week at Concordia College and Brown Chapel A.M.E.

Wofford said that the idea for having the conference on August 6th came about because so much has been done in March, that the August signing anniversary hasn’t gotten as much attention.

But Wofford said, while the conference will honor the past and Alabama’s contribution to the Voting Rights Act, it will also focus on the future of the Voting Rights Act and Constitutional reform in Alabama.

The conference begins on Wednesday at 7 p.m. with a worship service at historic Brown Chapel A.M.E Church at 410 Martin Luther King Street.

The next three days will be filled with speakers, panel discussions and town hall meetings.

The Rev. James Bevel will be the speaker. In 1963, Bevel joined the desegregation struggle waged by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth in Birmingham, Alabama.

When King was jailed, Bevel organized black children and marched against Commissioner Bull Connor’s fire hoses and police dogs. The &8220;Children’s Crusade&8221; led by Bevel turned the media tide in their favor. Bevel brainstormed the March On Washington in 1963 and the Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery march in 1965.

The Conference begins in earnest on Thursday at Concordia College. After a greeting from Concordia President Dr. Julius Jenkins and a city official, Nancy Worley, Alabama Secretary of State will speak.

Since Worley is in charge of Alabama Elections, her thoughts on the Voting Rights Act are very relevant to the conference.

Following a break, a panel discussion will look at the endangered sections of the Voting Rights Act, Section 2 and Section 5.

After lunch, William F. Winter the former Governor of Mississippi will address the conference followed by local congressman Artur Davis.

Another panel discussion will look at felony disenfranchisement and the Voting Rights Act before Susan Pace Hamill; professor of law at the University of Alabama will speak

The day will close with a Town Hall Meeting that asks, &8220;Where Do We Go From Here,&8221; followed by a reception.

Opening Friday, John K. Tanner, the Chief of the Voting Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice will address the conference.

Stephen F. Black will discuss the 1901 Alabama Constitution and how it impact’s full implementation of the Voting Rights Act.

Wofford said the Constitution will be a hot topic at the conference.

After a panel discussion on the impact voting has on economic development,

University of Michigan Professor Dr. J. Mills Thornton will speak.

On Saturday, Dr. John L. S. Simpkins of the Center for a Better South in

Charleston, South Carolina will be the breakfast speaker then the group will break for a tour of historic sites of the Black Belt in Perry, Dallas, Lowndes and Wilcox Counties

Finally, the event will close with a gala reception in which the Director of The Rosa Parks Museum Georgette Norman will perform a series of readings.

The conference is open to the public for the registration fee of $285 for all the events.

Though the format may change, Wofford said the conference will become an annual event working to change policies that limit the Voting Rights Act’s effectiveness.