The National Black Justice Coalition joins the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in petitioning Congress for legislation that will restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. This week marks the 49th anniversary since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).

Spurred by the groundwork of Freedom Summer and the horrific events of Bloody Sunday, the VRA was an unapologetic answer by the federal government to southern states that were blocking the voting rights of black Americans, notes the NBJC. Ratified in 1867, the 15th Amendment of the United States Constitution provided that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged” on the basis of race. For nearly 100 years after its ratification, white state officials illegally denied blacks, and other people of color, from voting even with federal anti-discrimination laws on the books, adds the NBJC, which is a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people with a mission is to end racism and homophobia.

The VRA outlawed all biased voting rules, including literacy tests. It also provided for the appointment of federal examiners with the power to register qualified citizens to vote in places which had historically discriminated against blacks. By the end of 1965, a quarter of a million new black voters had been registered, one-third by federal examiners. By the end of 1966, only four out of the 13 southern states had fewer than 50% of African Americans registered to vote.

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In June of 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, broke more than a generation of precedent by gutting key protections of the VRA, the NBJC points out. For the first time since the VRA’s passage, states with a history of racial discrimination no longer had to receive pre-approval by the federal government to change voting rules. With this new freedom, states like Texas and North Carolina moved immediately to pass racially targeted voter ID laws and dismantled early voting options.

“Many have died and fought heroically to secure the right to vote for all Americans. As concerned citizens, we must be vigilant to protect voting rights, which is the bedrock of our democracy,” says NBJC executive director and CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks. “Members of Congress have introduced a bi-partisan piece of legislation to stop discriminatory state voting laws in the wake of last year’s abysmal Supreme Court decision. However, Congress has left Washington for vacation and failed to move on amending the Voting Rights Act. Until Congress acts on this legislation, voting rights for all people, especially minorities, are once again in jeopardy.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ petition requesting Congress to restore the VRA can be found here.

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