2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act
Patricia Alston of Fort Valley was living in Montgomery, Alabama, and participated in the civil rights movement.
“All of my peers, we either went to jail, were arrested, had hoses turned on us, and dogs snapping at us,” says Alston.
Alston did not march in Selma, Alabama, but she remembers “Bloody Sunday.”
“Walking over that bridge, tried to really make it clear for the nation how important it was for African-American community to be able to vote.”
Fifty years ago President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the “Voting Rights Act of 1965.” It gave African-Americans and other minorities the right to cast a ballot.
Mercer University Political Science Professor Chris Grant says President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in 1853 using the Emancipation Proclamation. Three years later, after Lincoln died in 1868, the 14th amendment was ratified and it ensured the right to vote for all Americans.
“After the civil war, amendments were added to the constitution that would guarantee African-Americans the ability to freely participate in the political system,” said Grant.
However, those amendments were not enforced until almost 100 years later. During the civil rights moment, protesters called on the federal government for equal rights with the March on Washington in August of 1963.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders met with President John F. Kennedy about equal treatment for African-Americans.
“John Kennedy saw a need for a piece of legislation that would guarantee civil rights,” says Grant.
President Kennedy was assassinated before he could sign any civil rights legislation.
“Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who becomes president, pushed through both the Civil Rights act of 1964 and perhaps the more dramatic Voting Rights Act,” says Grant.
“I look back and see that all of the sacrifices that the people in my generation made, it means that people are benefiting from that,” says Alston. “I’m able to do something that many generations in my family were not able to do.”
Alston added that prior to the civil rights movement people would loose their jobs if they were seen voting.
Grant says the lack of voter participation in Middle Georgia cannot continue.
“People have given their lives for our ability to vote and we can look at all the soldiers who have sacrifice d their lives over the years, for the protection of the United States,” says Grant. “It really is a shame that we don’t take our time as citizens to do due diligence and participate in the political system.”
He says voting is an essential part of how government officials are held accountable in the United States.
“What surprises a lot of people is that the research that’s been done on voting actually indicates that when you control for education and income, African-American voters are more likely to turn out and vote than white voters,” added Grant.
Both Alston and Grant encourage all Americans to vote. They add voters should cast ballots in all elections, not just presidential races.