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History of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) gave the federal government power to ensure that state and local voting laws are not discriminatory. Considered to be landmark legislation, it ensured that southern states instituting discriminatory practices against African Americans and western states against Latinxs and American Indians, would be held accountable and severely limited in continuing those efforts.

Setting the Stage

After the Civil War, the passage of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution gave “all the rights of citizenship” to former slaves. This allowed African American men to register and vote in the South.

Yet, even the passage of the 15th Amendment, which prohibits states from denying any citizen their right to vote because of race, did not protect these rights. In 1883, the Supreme Court decided to defer all enforcement of voting laws to the states. This made it easier for local governments to put their own voting procedures in place.

President Kennedy was sympathetic to the African American Civil Rights Movement to a point, and when Lyndon B. Johnson assumed office in 1963, this was not a priority issue for his domestic agenda. The tipping point came with Bloody Sunday in Selma. The loss of life and the unwarranted uncontrolled violent reaction by the county police force and others forced President Johnson to acknowledge that something needed to change quickly.

Within days of Bloody Sunday, he charged Congress in March 1965  to pass a voting rights bill. By August 6, 1965, Congress passed the legislation and President Johnson signed the bill.

Minnesota Votes on the VRA

The entire congressional delegation in Minnesota, from both parties, voted unanimously with agreement of all people involved to pass this legislation. Those serving in the Congress at the time of the passage:

Sen. Walter Mondale (D), Sen. Eugene McCarthy(D), Rep. Al Quie (R), Rep. Ancher Nelsen (R), Rep. Donald Fraser (D), Rep. Clark MacGregor (R), Rep. Joseph Karth (D), Rep. Alec Olson (D), Rep. Odin Langen (R) and Rep. John Blatnik (D).