The Brooklyn Law School Library has several items in its collection related to the Voting Rights Act. The latest is Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy by Gary May (Call #KF4893.M39 2013). This fast-paced history of the VRA offers a dramatic, timely account of the struggle that finally won African Americans the ballot—although, as May shows, the fight for voting rights is by no means over.
When the Fifteenth Amendment of 1870 granted African Americans the right to vote, it seemed as if a new era of political equality was at hand. Before long, however, white segregationists across the South counterattacked, driving their black countrymen from the polls through a combination of sheer terror and insidious devices such as complex literacy tests and expensive poll taxes. Most African Americans would remain voiceless for nearly a century more, citizens in name only until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act secured their access to the ballot.
The author describes how black voters overcame centuries of bigotry to secure and preserve one of their most important rights as American citizens. The struggle that culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act was long and torturous, and only succeeded because of the courageous work of local freedom fighters and national civil rights leaders—as well as, ironically, the opposition of Southern segregationists and law enforcement officials, who won public sympathy for the voting rights movement by brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators.
Many argue that the 2008 election of President Barack Obama rendered the act obsolete, and there have been renewed efforts to curb voting rights and deny minorities the act’s hard-won protections. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Shelby County v. Holder declared the protections in Section 4 of the VRA unconstitutional. Recent actions by the Department of Justice make clear that Section 2 and other sections of the VRA remain in play as methods to promote the goal of increasing voting rights. See the Jurist article for more on this issue.