President Obama joins Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Valerie Jarrett, senior White House adviser, to address the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6.
(Courtesy of the White House via Twitter)
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
On the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, President Obama on Thursday praised the bravery of the civil rights activists who pushed for the landmark law in the face of virulent and institutional racism and hatred.
“Our country changed for the better because those marchers chose to do the hard thing. They chose to fight for it,” he said. “They risked bodily harm for it. And each day, they woke up and picked up that work again.”
The 1965 law, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, required nine mostly Southern states with a history of discrimination at the polls to get approval from the U.S. Justice Department or a special panel of judges before any changes to voting laws.
The law also applied to a dozen U.S. cities and 57 counties around the nation and the mandates put in place served to protect Black and minority voters who had no protections before the law’s implementation.
The historic law was largely spurred by the Martin Luther King Jr.-led marches in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery, particularly the March 7, 1965, demonstration known as “Bloody Sunday,” in which unarmed protestors were savagely beaten by law enforcement officials.
“And on one afternoon, two visions of America met on the Edmund Pettus Bridge,” President Obama said. “Those non-violent marchers, representing the idea that all men and women are created equal and deserved to be treated as such, stared into the faces of those who re-presented a South that stood for the racial segregation and oppression of Jim Crow.”
But civil rights leaders contend a 2013 ruling by the Supreme Court has severely weakened the law and put minorities’ voting rights in jeopardy.
The court struck down a key provision of the law that provided a formula by which to identify states requiring federal oversight because of a history of discrimination against Blacks and minorities, deeming it outdated and unnecessary.
Since then, activists and politicians alike — the President included —alike have pushed for restoration of the voter protections.
President Obama said the situation is exacerbated by people not exercising their right to vote. He chided those with apathetic views toward voting and implored them not to let frustration with slow-moving politics in Washington prevent them from going to the polls.
“As shameful as it is that laws are being designed to keep people away from the polls, here’s something just as troubling — if not worse: Among those of us who can vote, far too many of us choose not to,” he said. “When we sit at home on Election Day, we give away our power. We give away our voice. We give away our ability to help shape the future of our communities and this country we love.
“There is no possible excuse for it,” he said.