Published 12:00 am Monday, August 6, 2007
Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Selma has a place of significance in that.
Prior to the Civil War the United States Constitution did not provide specific protections for voting. Voting qualifications were matters neither the Constitution nor federal laws governed. At that time, a few northern states permitted a few free black men to register and vote, slavery and restrictive state laws led the franchise to be exercised almost exclusively by white males.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War Congress enacted the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, which allowed former Confederate States to be readmitted to the Union if they adopted new state constitutions that permitted universal male suffrage. The 14th Amendment, which conferred citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, was ratified in 1868.
Email newsletter signup
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, in 1870 the 15th Amendment was ratified, which provided the right to vote should not be denied or abridged on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude. This superseded state laws that prohibited blacks. Congress then enacted the Enforcement Act of 1870, which contained criminal penalties for interference, and the Force Act of 1871, which provided for federal oversight.
In the former Confederate States, hundreds of thousands freed slaves registered. Black candidates began for the first time to be elected to state, local and federal offices and to take part in governments.
The murder of voting-rights activists, along with numerous acts of violence and terrorism, and finally, the unprovoked attack on March 7, 1965, by state troopers on peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge here in Selma
bound for Montgomery, persuaded the President and Congress to overcome Southern legislators’ resistance to effective voting rights legislation. President Johnson issued a call for a strong voting rights law and hearings began soon thereafter on the bill that would become the Voting Rights Act.
We live in a historical, special place.