On August 6 this year, the League of Women Voters hosted a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act at Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field. About 100 people attended and heard from Mayor Tom Henry, Police Chief Garry Hamilton, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, and John Aden, Executive Director of the African-American Museum among others. The speakers talked about the impact of the 1965 law, which has been called the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress.
On August 6, 50 years ago President Lyndon Johnson signed the law guaranteeing that “throughout the nation, no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color.” Up to then, even though the United States Constitution had prohibited the states from denying male citizens the right to vote “based on race, color or previous condition of servitude,” black voters continued to be turned away from polling places by various means like poll taxes and literacy tests. The gains made immediately following the end of the Civil War were eroded by these “Jim Crow” laws. The injustices created unrest, and tensions increased through the years. In the 1950s and 60s conflicts became more and more heated. On March 7, 1965 these struggles came to a head when state troopers attacked marchers who were peacefully crossing a bridge in Selma, Alabama on their way to the state capitol in Montgomery on what has become known as Bloody Sunday. This tragedy and the surrounding turmoil convinced President Johnson to issue a call for a strong voting rights law, and hearings in Congress began soon afterwards on the bill that would become the Voting Rights Act.
This law is considered important, in part, because after its passage the participation of African-Americans in voter registration and elections increased sharply, a sign that people were feeling a new hope and confidence in their ability to have a say in their government.
But there is still much work to be done to improve participation in the political process, not just by African-Americans but, by all Americans. After all, in our most recent election in May only about 10 percent of those eligible to vote came to the polls. This is shameful when people have fought and sometimes died to ensure the right of all citizens to a voice in the political process.
I will be doing my part in getting more people involved when my staff and I come to the Waynedale Picnic this year on August 22. We will have our usual booth there, and we will have voter registration forms for those who would like a convenient way to get registered while enjoying a fun day in the park. Not only that, but we will have a “Guess the Number” jar, and the one with the closest guess will win a prize! As always, I look forward to a day visiting with the folks in Waynedale. See you then!
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