Monday, March 4, 2013

John Lewis and the Voting Rights Act of 1964


There’s lots of talk about repealing the Voter’s Rights Amendment to the Constitution lately. The photograph above was what I saw in 1965, when I was barely 11 years old. In the foreground is future Congressman John Lewis being beaten by an Alabama State Trooper for daring to exercise his rights of peaceful protest and free speech. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 was brand new; and it was the law of the land; but the Southern states were dragging their feet on enforcement of it, which led to the Selma-Montgomery marches of March 1965.

The first march took place on what became known as “Bloody Sunday”, March 7th, 1965, which is when the photograph above was taken; 45 years ago yesterday. The marchers were attempting a peaceful protest by marching from Selma to Montgomery; and the state capitol. But first, they would have to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This was; for some arbitrary reason on the part of the police; the line of demarcation which they could not allow the protesters to cross. To aid them in their cause they enlisted fire hoses, police dogs and tear gas; as well as billy clubs; to prevent the protesters from reaching their goal.

The initial march, on Sunday; by about 600 protesters  grew out of frustration over the inability of African-Americans to register and vote; as dictated by the 1964 law. The march was organized by the Dallas County Voter’s League and the SNCC, who both enlisted the help of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The second march grew out of the brutality of the police in preventing the protesters from crossing the bridge. That march was held the following Tuesday as 2,500 protesters turned out and forced their way across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, making their it to other side before being turned back by a tidal wave of state and local police who were waiting.

It wasn't until March 16th that the protesters  now stronger in numbers than ever; and backed by over 2,000 soldiers and federalized National Guardsmen, were able to begin the 40 mile march from Selma to the state capitol. At a rate of 10 miles per day, they arrived at their goal on March 24th, where they were able to formally lodge their protest.

The move in the Congress and Senate today, which is based upon the assertion that the protection of the law is no longer needed to protect the rights of minority voters, is specious on its very face. It is nothing more than an attempt to turn back the clock in America. One of the more unusual aspects of this whole charade is the clamoring by the Right for the addition of the Voter ID requirement.

As the Democrats; who alleged widespread fraud in the 2000 election; are opposed to a National ID card of any type, including a Voter ID card, the Republicans; who contend that there was no fraud in the 2000 election, and no problem in general; are adamantly for one. Neither side is consistent in its reasoning; therefore both positions are suspect.

Simply put, too many people have fought too hard and for too long to attain the Right to Vote for us to turn back the clock now. For us, as a nation, to return the sanctity of the voting process back to the Sates is an invitation to return again to the days when such a law was necessary, and people were beaten in the streets for asking for one. 

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