President Lyndon B. Johnson presents one of the pens used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to James Farmer, director of the Congress of Racial Equality. (Photo: National Archive/Newsmakers)
On Aug. 6, 1965 the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The passage of the law was the result of intense and concerted efforts of civil rights activists and organizations such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Public outrage over the murders of three CORE volunteers who were participating in a voter registration drive in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and numerous other incidents of racial violence forced Congressional leaders to take action.
Before the Act was passed, discriminatory election practices were fought on a case-by-case basis, but that method allowed states to maintain discriminatory policies by consistently replacing defeated laws.
Broadly, the Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color. After its passage, the number of registered African-American voters in southern states rose exponentially and the number of Black elected officials rose in kind. The act was extended in 1970, 1975 and 1982 and finally in 2006 for 25 years.
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