A look at the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and whether this law has accomplished the goal of protecting the right to vote for all Americans, regardless of their skin color.
25th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act
FAITH DANIELS, anchor:
This week is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, probably the most significant domestic legislation to come out of the Lyndon Johnson Presidency. As NBC's Douglas Kiker reports this morning on Another Look, it lifted barriers that had prevented blacks from voting and resulted in a political realignment in the South.
MAYNARD JACKSON: I think the single most important piece of legislation in the history of the nation was the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
DOUGLAS KIKER, reporting:
Certainly it was the most significant civil-rights legislation ever passed. Lyndon Johnson signed it into law 25 years ago tomorrow, and it changed American politics forever.
WILLIAM BREEDING (Elementary School Principal): We saw a ray of light coming out of the dark tunnel. Naturally when the act was signed into law we started trying to register as many people as we could.
KIKER: The new law abolished literacy tests and other voting barriers in seven Southern states, and black voter registration increased there by 43 percent. The number of black elected officials increased nationally from 500 in 1965 to more than 7000 today including Virginia's first black governor, Doug Wilder.
Mr. JOSEPH LOWERY (Southern Christian Leadership Conference): And even where we can't elect black elected officials, we are very often the balance of power in electing white officials, and that makes them more responsive to the needs and aspirations of black people.
KIKER: Blacks immediately became the new best friends of the likes of George Wallace, seen here crowning the University of Alabama first black homecoming queen.
Governor GEORGE WALLACE: You're a mighty pretty queen.
KIKER: And that's still true today in small towns such as Greensboro, Georgia, as well as big cities.
Mayor ANDREW BOSWELL (Mayor, Greensboro, Georgia): I have to have them, and do get them, and--and will continue to work with these people. These people are my friends.
KIKER: But today, black voter apathy has become a big problem.
Mr. FELTON HUDSON: They take it for granted. They do not come out and register to vote with the enthusiasm they should.
KIKER: And too many blacks mistakenly believed back in 1965 that the right to vote automatically would bring improved social and economic conditions.
Mr. LOWERY: We thought politics could deliver it all.
KIKER: It didn't. There have been advances, but American blacks remain at the very bottom of the nation's economic ladder.
Mr. BREEDING: These other things, you've got to get in the trenches and fight for them.
Mr. HUDSON: It's going to get better.
KIKER: It has gotten better.
HUDSON: It has gotten better, and it's going to get better. It just takes time.
Editor's Note: This act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964. It made discrimination in public places unlawful. It required schools and other public places to be integrated. It made job discrimination unlawful. This document was the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction Era.
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