One Man/One Vote
Almost one hundred years after the Fifteenth Amendment gave them the right to vote, African Americans were still blocked from the polls in many states. In the South poll taxes, literacy tests, complicated voter registration rules, intimidation, and violence made it impossible for blacks to vote. Voting rights demonstrations were viewed as a threat to the entrenched white power structure and culture of racial segregation.
The Selma March
In 1965, after a demonstration in Alabama erupted in violence and death, African American residents planned a march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery.
Millions of Americans were horrified by images of the peaceful marchers led by the Reverend Hosea Williams and John Lewis being beaten by police while white onlookers cheered. From across the nation volunteers came to join the march. Others sent letters and telegrams to Washington demanding reform.
Voting Rights Act
Four months after the public outcry over the brutality in Selma, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sent federal examiners to the South to enroll voters and supervise registration and voting in areas with a history of abuse. The act struck down restrictive state laws that created racial barriers to voting. In 1975 the act was amended to include four “language minorities”—American Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Spanish-heritage citizens.