Voting Rights Act of 1965

US #3937b features a photo of young protesters at the Selma March.

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.

The 15th to the United States Constitution says the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  However, Southern registration boards used poll taxes, literacy tests, and other strategies to deny this right to blacks.

US #3937b – Fleetwood First Day Cover

The first major progress came in 1957 when Congress passed the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act of 1957.  It permitted the attorney general to sue for people whose 15th Amendment rights were denied and created the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice as well as the Commission on Civil Rights.  There was also the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which pushed for increased voter registration in areas where voting discrimination had been known.

US #3937b – Mystic First Day Cover

Additionally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided some voting rights protections, including a requirement that literacy tests be distributed equally.  In spite of all these attempts, voting discrimination still persisted.  Shortly after the 1964 elections, President Lyndon B. Johnson told his attorney general to draft the “toughest voting rights act” he could.

In the meantime, the murder of voting-rights activists in Mississippi in 1964 brought national attention to the issue.  Then, on Sunday, March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, residents and supporters marched to demand an equal right to vote.  Alabama police used tear gas and clubs against them.

US #3937b – Classic First Day Cover

President Johnson denounced “Bloody Sunday,” and said “Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote… It is wrong – deadly wrong – to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”

The voting rights bill Johnson sent to Congress removed the right of states to restrict who could vote in elections.  The act was passed by large majorities in both houses of Congress and signed into law on August 6, 1965.

US #3937 was issued to mark the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Within months of its passage, a quarter of a million new black voters had registered.  Within four years, voter registration in the South had more than doubled.  In 1965, barely 100 African Americans held any elective office in the US; by 1989, there were more than 7,200.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 accomplished its purpose.

Click here to read the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. The article is out of date since subsequent actions by the US Supreme Court and several States have diminished the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act. The question of voting access is an unresolved, controversial issue.

    1. The article above is NOT out of date! It only covers the development and original intention of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The recent misinterpretation of the Supreme Court made it controversial and set back this important 1965 legislation that long resolved the active access and participation of minority Americans. Thank you, Mystic, for bringing this outstanding 1965 Act to our attention!

  2. When I was a lot younger, I thought that you fought for something that was the right thing to do, you won, and that was it. Boy was I naïve. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a great law and it led to the enfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of African Americans that had been denied the vote. After the Roberts Supreme Court gutted the Act in 2013, many states with Republican majorities have come up with a whole slough of tricky ways to reduce the vote of blacks, Native Americans who live on reservations, the young, and the elderly. The fight for the right of every citizen to vote goes on.

  3. Voting Rights are still the law of the land. All that is being
    done now is making sure the person voting IS the person that is
    supposed to be voting. ID is available to all and is not hard to get.
    IN FACT 99.9% of the people have some kind of ID, Drivers License.
    State Issued ID. Military ID. You have to have one for everyday, to
    get cigarettes, beer, liquor and to board an Airplane. Saying that it
    puts undue stress on someone to get an ID is absurd in this day and

  4. I agree with Kenneth , that to keep the integrity of voting in place, you have to have strong guidelines to insure HONEST voting. And since it was southern Democrats that tried to prevent the Black vote it boggles my mind that they vote for the Democrats in the first place!! Thanks again Mystic.

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