Despite the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, African-Americans in the South faced tremendous obstacles to voting. Congress’s Reconstruction Era laws to enforce the 15th Amendment were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1883, and for decades, there had been no further Federal attempts to protect civil rights. As a result, very few African-Americans were registered voters in the former Confederate states, and African Americans exercised little political power, locally or nationally. They also risked harassment, intimidation, economic reprisals, and physical violence when they tried to register or vote.
By the 1950s, the nation’s attention focused once again on civil rights. Congress passed Civil Rights Acts in 1957, 1960, and 1964, but none of these laws were strong enough to prevent voting discrimination by local officials. While many counseled patience, the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Council) and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) launched protests in Selma, Alabama that dramatically underscored the need for voting rights legislation.
As a result of these protests and the decisive actions of the House and Senate leadership working in tandem with President Lyndon Johnson, a milestone accomplishment was achieved in the protection of voting rights in the South. Senate Bill 1564, passed on May 26, 1965 by a vote of 77 to 19. The House passed its own bill H.R. 6400 on July 10. Together, the House and Senate reconciled the differences in the two bills through a conference committee on August 2. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6.
Roll Call Vote Tally on S. 1564, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 5/26/1965, SEN89A-M1, Records of the U.S. Senate (ARC 5637787)
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