It used to be that literacy tests and poll taxes kept black voters from the ballot box. It was deliberate disenfranchisement put in place to block African-Americans after they legally gained the right to vote. But in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law one of the most powerful pieces of legislation in the history of the United States. The law, called the Voting Rights Act, equipped the federal government with a bazooka it could aim at racist barriers standing in the way of minority voters. The Voting Rights Act not only wiped out many of those restrictions, but it was a profound acknowledgement that change could only happen if all Americans could choose who governed them. In Episode 1 of “Shut Out” we take a 1960s literacy test, designed to keep black people from voting, and learn more about how America made it hard, and continues to make it hard, for black voters to get to the polls.
We examine the voting restrictions that made the Voting Rights Act necessary. And we explore the power of a certain part of the law that helped stop discrimination before it happened. That’s right: Officials who wanted to make voting changes first had to show they were not going to cause problems for minority voters.
Lastly, and perhaps most urgently, we look at how the Supreme Court recently gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, giving officials the green light to implement discriminatory voting laws.
Subscribe to “Shut Out” wherever you listen to podcasts. Read on for a transcript of the first episode.