While most of the country will spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday remembering the peaceful nature and civil rights successes lodged by the late leader, voting rights advocates say this is a dark time for them. Many might spend Monday reflecting on King’s 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march to push for voting equality for black Americans, but voting rights advocates note that there has been a major setback in their world. In 2013, a Supreme Court ruling struck down the part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that indicates which parts of the country must have changes to voting rights laws cleared by the federal government or by a federal court. Preclearance was a requirement for states and communities that had a history of discrimination against black voters. Advocates viewed it as a necessary safeguard against discrimination at the ballot. Also, 33 states now have Voter ID laws in place with increased identification requirements for people seeking to cast ballots. The issue has been a controversial one for civil rights advocates, who maintain that some groups of Americans, including older people and minorities, are less likely to have the sort of identification that would be required.Full Article: Voting rights advocates observe somber King holiday.
Martin Luther King
Editorials: It’s Time to Honor Dr. King’s Commitment to Voting Rights | Jose Calderon/Huffington Post
Among the many accomplishments in his all-too-short life, perhaps none was as important to Dr. Martin Luther King as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Dr. King understood that the single most important tool that African-Americans could use to unravel the worst elements of state-sanctioned discrimination was the ballot box. Decades before the Civil Rights movement emerged, communities across the nation had contrived a system of electoral exclusion that depended on a witch’s brew of poll taxes, literacy tests and “good character” clauses. When these obstacles failed to dissuade potential voters, violence or threats of violence offered a useful and effective supplement to the campaign of disenfranchisement.Full Article: It's Time to Honor Dr. King's Commitment to Voting Rights | Jose Calderon.
In Alabama, without an ID, you can’t vote. Yet Governor Bentley’s administration announced plans this month to close 31 driver’s license offices across the state, including in every single county where African Americans make up more than 75 percent of registered voters. The closings would make getting driver’s licenses and personal identification cards much harder for many African Americans. That would make voting much harder, too. As many Alabamians have said in recent days, that’s just dead wrong. Governor Bentley is insisting that the closings had nothing to do with race, but the facts tell a different story. Fifty years after Rosa Parks sat, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched, and John Lewis bled, it’s hard to believe Americans are still forced to fight for their right to vote—especially in places where the civil rights movement fought so hard all those years ago. The parallels are inescapable: Alabama is living through a blast from the Jim Crow past.Full Article: Hillary Clinton: Alabama remains front line of voting rights battle | AL.com.
For most people, the 1963 March on Washington brings to mind the phrase “I have a dream.” Four simple words became the music that turned Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech into one of history’s greatest. But despite their elegance, they actually are not my favorite part of the speech. I love the beginning, where King defines the need for a civil rights movement in the first place. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir,” King said. “. . . Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ “But,” King added, “we refuse to believe . . . that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” In this statement King speaks to the heart of black idealism and identifies the core of the American civil rights movement of the past 50 years. This vision of simple justice affirms that the rights and privileges of citizenship should not be reserved for some but should be available to all.Full Article: John Lewis: How we won, and are losing, the right to vote - The Washington Post.
Fifty years ago, Southern lawmakers tried in vain to stop the Voting Rights Act, calling it an unconstitutional assault on their states’ right to decide who was qualified to cast a ballot. “The bill is tailor-made to Martin Luther King’s demand for Negro control of the political institutions of the South,” Democratic Sen. Allen Ellender of Louisiana, said on the Senate floor in 1965. “Only through such a nefarious piece of legislation could incompetents gain control of the political processes in the South or in the United States.” Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina argued that passing the Voting Rights Act would make Congress “the final resting place of the Constitution and the rule of law. For it is here that they will have been buried with shovels of emotion under piles of expediency,” Thurmond said. As the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act approaches on Aug. 6, the law is considered a landmark achievement in the struggle for civil rights and an inclusive democracy. Bipartisan majorities in Congress repeatedly have renewed it, and it’s credited with transforming the South by giving African-Americans the ability to share in civic life. But shades of the 1965 states’ rights debate have returned to Washington. A 2013 Supreme Court decision tossing out one part of the law has reopened the 50-year-old question over whether federal officials should be able to veto local election laws before they take effect because they might harm minority voters.Full Article: 50 years after landmark bill signed, voting rights still fiercely debated.
Editorials: Fifty Years After Bloody Sunday in Selma, Everything and Nothing Has Changed | Ari Berman/The Nation
Congress can’t agree on much these days, but on February 11, the House unanimously passed a resolution awarding the Congressional Gold Medal—the body’s highest honor—to the foot soldiers of the 1965 voting-rights movement in Selma, Alabama. The resolution was sponsored by Representative Terri Sewell, Alabama’s first black Congresswoman, who grew up in Selma. Sewell was born on January 1, 1965, a day before Martin Luther King Jr. arrived in Selma to kick off the demonstrations that would result in passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) eight months later. On February 15, 2015, Sewell returned to Selma, which she now represents, to honor the “unsung heroes” of the voting-rights movement at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, the red brick headquarters for Selma’s civil-rights activists in 1965, taking the pulpit where King once preached. The film Selma has brought renewed attention to the dramatic protests of 1965. Tens of thousands of people, including President Obama, will converge on the city on March 7, the fiftieth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when 600 marchers, including John Lewis, now a Congressman, were brutally beaten by Alabama state troopers.Full Article: Fifty Years After Bloody Sunday in Selma, Everything and Nothing Has Changed | The Nation.
National: White House seeks $50 million to restore civil rights sites as voting rights anniversary nears | Associated Press
The White House is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act by earmarking $50 million to restore key civil rights areas around the nation. The president’s budget includes money for the national historical trail from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which commemorates in part the “Bloody Sunday” attack by police on civil rights demonstrators. Their march was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film “Selma.” The attack helped boost the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned the use of literacy tests, added federal oversight for minority voters and allowed federal prosecutors to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.Full Article: White House seeks $50 million to restore civil rights sites as voting rights anniversary nears | Star Tribune.
The film Selma movingly chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight to win the Voting Rights Act (VRA). It ends with King speaking triumphantly on the steps of the Alabama capitol, after marching from Selma to Montgomery. Five months later, Congress passed the VRA, the most important civil-rights law of the twentieth century. If only that story had a happy ending today. Selma has been released at a time when voting rights are facing the most sustained attack since 1965. The Supreme Court gutted the centerpiece of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013. That followed a period from 2011 to 2012 when 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in 41 states, and 22 states made it harder to vote. Last year, on King’s birthday, a bipartisan coalition in Congress introduced a legislative fix for the Shelby decision, restoring the requirement that states with the worst record of voting discrimination have to clear their voting changes with the federal government. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA) was an imperfect piece of legislation, but voting rights advocates viewed it as a good first step toward protecting voting rights.Full Article: Honor King’s Legacy by Protecting Voting Rights | The Nation.
Voting Blogs: From Selma to Citizens United: The contested struggle for one person, one vote | Facing South
On Jan. 19, our country celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., half a century after his work — chronicled in the recent Oscar-nominated movie “Selma” — helped inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Next week will also be the five-year anniversary of another momentous event for our democracy: the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which gave corporations and groups the right to spend unlimited money to influence elections. The two anniversaries are more closely linked than many realize. The 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches — and the brutal backlash to them from Alabama state troopers — galvanized national support for the Voting Rights Act, changing the balance of power in the South. Building on years of local organizing, “roughly a million new voters were registered within a few years after the [Voting Rights Act] became law,” says historian Alexander Keyssar in his seminal book “The Right to Vote,” “with African-American registration soaring to a record 62 percent.”Full Article: From Selma to Citizens United: The contested struggle for one person, one vote.
A day after a top Republican seemed to dismiss the need to restore a critical part of the Voting Rights Act, lawmakers Thursday told NBC News they would re-introduce bipartisan voting rights legislation next week, in what the Congressional Black Caucus says will be a massive effort to aggressively defend voting rights. House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., suggested other sections of the Voting Rights Act are already strong enough. “To this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary to protect people because we think the Voting Rights Act is providing substantial protection in this area right now,” Goodlatte said while speaking to reporters at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast. Calling Goodlatte’s statement a “bombshell,” the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., warned “If Bob Goodlatte is speaking for the Republican Conference, this is a very serious development because we are going to push back in a very significant way against the unwillingness of the Republicans to take up extending section five protections.”Full Article: Voting Rights Debate Reignites Heading into MLK Holiday - NBC News.com.
The civil-rights movement has been richly chronicled in books like Taylor Branch’s trilogy on Martin Luther King Jr. and documentaries like Eyes on the Prize. But there have been few equally powerful depictions of the movement in pop culture, which tend to overstate the contribution of white protagonists and turn African-Americans into supporting players in their own struggle (i.e., The Help, Mississippi Burning etc). That’s why the new film Selma is such an important work. The movie is unique in many respects. It movingly captures the dramatic events that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It has a great cast, anchored by an unusually nuanced portrayal of King by David Oyelowo. It also boasts a diversity rarely seen in major films, both on screen and behind the camera: as a black woman filmmaker, writer-director Ava DuVernay is, sadly, a rarity in Hollywood. In her hands, Selma skillfully shows the tensions within the civil-rights movement between groups like King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the young activists with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the many pressures—personal, political and organizational—that King faced at the time.Full Article: What ‘Selma’ Gets Right—and Wrong—About Civil-Rights History | The Nation.
Speakers at the commemoration Sunday of a key event in African Americans’ fight for voting rights urged Congress to resurrect the requirement that many southern states get federal approval for changes in election laws. The son of Martin Luther King Jr. said blood spilled on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge helped pave the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But a court case also arising out of Alabama led the U.S. Supreme Court last year to effectively strike down a key provision of the law that requires federal approval for election changes in all or parts of 15 states. “I’m very concerned because it is ironic that the state that helped to give us so much has temporarily set up a scenario to take it away. That we must change,” Martin Luther King III said in a speech this morning.Full Article: Selma, Ala. honors anniversary of 'Bloody Sunday' - SFGate.
On the 85th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth, Vice President Joe Biden said he never imagined the country would once again be fighting over the Voting Rights Act. “I never thought we’d be fighting the fight again on voting rights, I really didn’t,” Biden said Monday to the annual King Day breakfast at the National Action Network. The vice president marked the civil rights leader’s birthday with a renewed call to action for the cause he said got him into public office in the first place.Full Article: Joe Biden: Voting rights fight continues - Andrea Drusch - POLITICO.com.
Martin Luther King Jr. marched famously from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery in March 1965 in a campaign that helped put the Voting Rights Act onto President Lyndon Johnson’s desk. But King didn’t live long enough to witness even the first legislative extension of the act in 1970. In fact, his murder in Memphis happened long before it became clear that the controversial federal law had succeeded, grandly, in protecting black citizens from discriminatory voting policies and practices in the Old South and elsewhere. Although its passage seemed impossible even two years before it was signed, the law was renewed five times by Congress over the next 41 years—the last time, in 2006, with extraordinary bipartisan support. Were King alive today, wizened at the age of 85, it’s likely he would have the same perspective that many of his still-alive-and-kicking civil rights contemporaries have about what the Voting Rights Act accomplished, where it failed and why the U.S. Supreme Court’s renunciation of it last June was so profoundly premature.Full Article: Is This Any Way to Remember MLK? - Andrew Cohen - POLITICO Magazine.
Signed into law as a federal holiday 30 years ago by President Ronald Reagan, the occasion to honor and remember Martin Luther King Jr. is also a moment to reflect on the state of democracy in the United States. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed, King called it “a great step forward in removing all of the remaining obstacles to the right to vote.’’ His carefully chosen words highlighted the triumph of the act while signaling that there was more work to be done. For his part, King announced in his annual report to the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) a new initiative, the Political Education and Voter Registration Department. Charged with equipping poor and black voters with an understanding of the voting process and the new protections of the Voting Rights Act, King and his colleagues set out to help expand the number of registered voters. Without regard for political affiliation or outcome, this initiative championed voter education and registration as a means to allay past injustices such as poll taxes and to guide the nation toward a more free and just society.Full Article: Voter suppression is a threat to all - The Washington Post.
Only seven months after the Supreme Court shattered the Voting Rights Act, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has come up with a bill that would go a long way toward putting it back together. If they can persuade Republicans in Congress to set aside partisanship and allow it to pass, they would begin to restore justice to a deeply damaged electoral process. It would be an ideal way to observe the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this week. The bill is far from perfect. In particular, it does not give enough weight to the discriminatory effect of voter ID laws. But it would make it more difficult for states and localities to take other actions that reduce minority voting rights. Jurisdictions would once again be put under Justice Department supervision if they committed multiple violations of the Constitution. All states and cities would be required to make public any last-minute changes to election practices, an improvement over current law, which requires such public notice in just a few states. And the bill would make it easier to stop harmful voting changes in court before they happen.Full Article: A Step Toward Restoring Voting Rights - NYTimes.com.
Lawmakers announced Thursday bipartisan legislation that would restore key protections of the Voting Rights Act that were thrown out by the Supreme Court last summer. The bill would also establish new criteria to determine whether states need to seek federal approval for proposed changes to voting rules. The legislation is a response to the high court’s ruling in June that Southern states had been unfairly singled out by the long-standing formula used to determine which states must seek federal “pre-clearance” before changing their voting laws. The proposed legislation would establish a new trigger. Any state that is found to have committed five voting violations over a 15-year period would be subject to federal scrutiny of any new voting laws for a period of 10 years. It would also allow states to create “reasonable” photo identification laws. Four states would be subject to the law immediately upon enactment: Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.Full Article: Bipartisan group begins effort to restore parts of Voting Rights Act - latimes.com.
This month we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment and accomplishments for equality — including voting rights — during the civil-rights movement. Even though great voting rights accomplishments have been achieved over the decades, injustices still exist. U.S. citizens residing in American territories such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Samoa are denied the right to vote for president. The premise is that these territories are not states of the union, and therefore, U.S. citizens residing in these territories must be denied the right to vote. But a U.S. citizen, for example, residing in, say, North Korea, under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, will still maintain his or her right to vote. This is the same for any other country that the citizen moves to as long as they resided in a state of the union prior to moving. However, a U.S. citizen who was born in a territory will never have the right to vote as long as they are a resident of that or another U.S. territory.Full Article: Puerto Ricans, others still denied full voting rights - Other Views - MiamiHerald.com.
For Noah Read, Mondays have become a day set aside for civil disobedience. For months, the 42-year-old from Burlington, N.C., has rearranged his work schedule as a restoration contractor so he can participate in weekly protests. The Moral Monday rallies, launched by the North Carolina NAACP outside the state’s general assembly in late April, continue to attract thousands to Raleigh to voice opposition to a spate of Republican-led legislation that critics pan as socially regressive. The issues range from an education budget devoid of teacher raises to the state’s decision to end federal unemployment benefits. “There’s one issue that affects all of the constituents that are gathering at Moral Mondays, and that is voting rights and voting access,” Read said. Now, 50 years after Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington, the state that was the site of the Greensboro sit-ins protesting segregation in 1960 is again a flash point in the debate over voting rights — proving for many that the struggle for racial equality is not over.Full Article: Equal voting rights still a dream in NC? | Al Jazeera America.
The same Voting Rights Act that grew partially from the March on Washington 50 years ago into one of the most successful civil rights-era laws has become a source of rancor, even straining the traditional coalition of Republicans and Democrats who have come together in favor of such vigilance. Marking half a century since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. King gave voice to the aspirations of millions of African-Americans across the country is bittersweet for civil rights activists in 2013. “Within the civil rights movement, there is definitely a sense that there’s a continued war on voting and we haven’t made it to the mountain top yet,” said Katherine Culliton-González, director of Voter Protection for the Advancement project. “Here we are in 2013, at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and we’re having to try to stop going backwards.”Full Article: Voting Rights Fix Tests Civil Rights Movement's Strength - ABC News.