By Terri Lee Freeman, Museum President
One (wo)man, one vote. This single concept is what our democracy is based on. The Founding Fathers of this country made this so through the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870. Each citizen of the United States of America is born with the right to vote. (This gets a little more complicated when you get to voting representation for territories like Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. But that’s a discussion for another day!) However, with that said it was just 50 years ago that Lyndon Baines Johnson the 36thPresident of the United States, signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The movie Selma, which was released broadly on January 9 in area theaters, depicts why it was necessary to sign the Voting Rights Act -- to reinforce the statutes of the then 95-year old 15th Constitutional Amendment. While we know how the story ends, to have portrayed in film the atrocities suffered by so many for their birthright demonstrates how vigilant we must continue to be when it comes to basic civil and human rights.
We must continue to keep a close eye on challenges that persist to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Most recently, in a 2013, 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision, a section of the Act that provided protection from voting discrimination for some states was deemed unconstitutional. While there was significant consternation following the Court’s decision, as is often the case. Out of sight, out of mind. But what better time than now, the 50th anniversary of this seminal act in civil rights history, than to focus our attention on our right to vote. For it is understanding our history that will, hopefully, prevent us from repeating it.
To that end, the National Civil Rights Museum will provide a variety of information and programming throughout this year on the historical roots of voting and our current responsibility as citizens of this great country to activate that right and other responsible actions for complete and full citizen participation and engagement. At our annual Dr. King Day celebration on January 19, citizens will be able to register to vote while enjoying entertainment and having the opportunity to visit the “new” Museum at a reduced price.
One (wo)man, one vote…145 years in the making, secured by the stroke of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s pen just 50 years ago!