Early Morning Open Thread: The Voting Rights Act

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, 1965

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, 1965

Lyndon Johnson: Voting Rights Act Address

Delivered March 15, 1965, Washington, D.C.

I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.

I urge every member of both parties—Americans of all religions and of all colors—from every section of this country—to join me in that cause.

At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.

There is no Negro problem. There is no southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem.

And we are met here tonight as Americans—not as Democrats or Republicans—we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, north and south: “All men are created equal” — “Government by consent of the governed” — “Give me liberty or give me death.”…

Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in man’s possessions. It cannot be found in his power or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being….

Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.

Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes….

Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books—and I have helped to put three of them there—can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it.

In such a case our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution.

We must now act in obedience to that oath.

Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote….

To those who seek to avoid action by their National Government in their home communities—who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections—the answer is simple. Open your polling places to all your people. Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin. Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land. There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States rights or National rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.

I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer….

But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.

Their cause must be our cause too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome….

This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all—all black and white, all North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies—poverty, ignorance, disease—they are our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too—poverty, disease, and ignorance—we shall overcome.

Montgomery Advertiser, February 26, 2013: Has South changed enough to end Voting Rights Act?

Lyndon Johnson had been a southern U.S. Senator from Texas.

He had fought all civil rights legislation with as zealous an effort as the other bloc of southern senators. This southern bloc of U.S. Senators totally controlled the Senate through their seniority and prowess. They were a formidable coalition. However, Lyndon had now become a national politician. He had ascended to the presidency at the death of John Kennedy and aspired to win the brass ring on his own in 1964.

When Lyndon Johnson set his sights on something nothing or nobody better get in his way. Whatever it took or by whatever means necessary, Lyndon Johnson was determined to win.

Johnson called George Wallace to the White House to meet with him. Wallace was cocky and full of vim and vinegar. At barely 5’8” he was like a bantam rooster. Although he was used to being the cock of the walk, it did not take long for the tall, tough, crude, intimidating Johnson to put Wallace in his place.

Johnson scowled at Wallace and told him he was nothing more than a redneck, tin horn demagogue and he could shout segregation and racist jargon as much as he wanted but it was not going to make a bit of difference. Johnson went on to say that by the end of the year he was going to pass a civil rights bill and sign it. He told Wallace that Strom Thurmond and his allies could filibuster all they wanted but at the end of the day it was going to be the law of the land and it was going to propel Johnson to victory in 1964. Wallace came back to Alabama with his hat in hand. He knew Johnson meant business.

The bill passed and Johnson signed it. Being a southerner Lyndon Johnson knew the ramifications when he signed the Civil Rights Act. He looked up and said, I have just signed the South over to the Republican Party. His words were prophetic….

In 1965, Johnson set his sights on a higher goal and passed the Voting Rights Act. He took aim at the Deep South and bestowed his renowned retribution extraction in Section 4B and Section 5. It requires that those five states and certain regions that voted for Goldwater must have any changes to their voting laws or procedures approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

Voting Rights Act Signing (1)

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18 Comments on “Early Morning Open Thread: The Voting Rights Act”

      • from this LGM link:

        So if I understand Scalia’s jurisprudence correctly, the 14th Amendment (which says nothing about race) applies only to racial discrimination (that affects white people) (unless a Republican has a presidential election to win), while the 15th Amendment (which explicitly forbids racial discrimination in voting and empowers Congress to enforce the provision) should not be construed as allowing Congress to prevent racial discrimination in voting, because this would be a “racial entitlement.” Fascinating.

        The rest of the Republican justices weren’t quite as explicit in their hostility, but while I guess you cold hold out some faint hope that Kennedy will pull back from the brink, I agree with Rick Hasen that the heart of the Voting Rights Act is doomed. We’ll get a superficially “minimalist” Roberts opinion that strikes down the preclearance requirement, while holding out the theoretical possibility that Congress could pass a new one, although it’s clear that no way Congress could go about it would satisfy the Court’s Republican majority.

        …Paul linked to it below, but make sure to read him as well.

        …see also Flatow and Millhiser. And then Serwer on Roberts’s long war on the Voting Rights Act.

        …Pierce:

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Thanks for those links, JJ.

    I was so angry last night after I read your post that I looked up LBJ’s speech and wanted to share it. I also really liked that article in the Montgomery Advertiser.

    I’m going to put up a regular Thursday reads post pretty soon.

  2. dakinikat says:

    JJ, since you and I live in the south–and a few others–I think we can attest that the South has not moved beyond racism at all. For that matter, neither has the north. But the South doesn’t feel they have to be subtle,guarded and polite about it at all. None of these judges must have spent any time down here at all.

    Also, it’s a shame the only black justice we have Uncle Clarence Thomas. Thurgood Marshall would ream them all new ones in places they never thought possible.

  3. dakinikat says:

    Arkansas Republicans override Governor’s veto, enact abortion restrictions that violate Roe v. Wade http://thkpr.gs/XF3E1J

    More crazy Republicans with their crazy priorities.

  4. dakinikat says:

    Witch Burnings in Papua New Guinea—in 2013! by @TheRobinMorgan http://bit.ly/XF0OKd

  5. dakinikat says:

    Violence Against Women Act gets long-sought vote in House http://nbcnews.to/Z2P425

  6. dakinikat says:

    Marissa Mayer thinks feminists are a drag, doesn’t seem to understand feminism: http://slate.me/ZKoVtV

  7. dakinikat says:

    Women vets are the fastest growing segment of US homeless population, many bearing scars of sexual trauma http://propub.ca/Z2kUfD

  8. bostonboomer says:

    Thursday Reads post up top!

    http://wp.me/pgqML-dYE