Voting Rights Anniversary Today Should Be A Celebration, But It’s Not

[Note: The Voting Rights Act was signed into law 49 years ago today. Sadly, the anniversary comes at a time when this vital democratic right has been rolled back. Until it is fully restored and strengthened, our country and state have little to celebrate. Read this note from Alabama State Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma.] 
Hank SandersAugust 6 ought to be a day of great celebration but it is not. President Jimmy Carter ought to celebrate August 6. President Bill Clinton ought to celebrate August 6. President Barack Obama ought to celebrate August 6 but they don’t.You and I ought to celebrate August 6. Everyone in the United States of America ought to celebrate August 6. African Americans especially ought to celebrate August 6. But we don’t.
August 6 is barely recognized, not to speak of celebrated.Something grand happened on August 6. Something happened on August 6 that was so sweeping that it changed the United States of America. Something happened on August 6 that made the entire country take a giant step toward fulfilling the promise of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Something happened that impacted not just the United States of America but much of the world. But we don’t even recall what happened on August 6 to
even recognize it, not to speak of celebrating it. 

If you are wondering what is so great about August 6, I will not keep you in suspense any longer. Please know that the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson on this date. It was a watershed moment in American History and influenced World History. August 6 must be celebrated.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 while Martin Luther King and others look on. LBJ Library, Yoichi R. Okamoto.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 while Martin Luther King and others look on. LBJ Library, Yoichi R. Okamoto.

When President Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act making it the law of the land, among other things, he said the following: Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has been won on any battlefield….

The law covers many pages. But the heart of the Act is plain. Whenever, by clear and objective standards, states and counties are using regulations, or laws, or tests, to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down…

….the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men…..

It is nothing less than granting every Negro his freedom to enter the mainstream of American life: not the conformity that blurs enriching differences of culture and tradition, but rather the opportunity to choose.

For centuries oppression and hatred have taken their painful toll. It can be seen throughout our land in men without skills, in children without fathers, in families that are imprisoned in slums and poverty.

…. Thus, this is a victory for the freedom of the American Negro. But it is a victory for the freedom of the American Nation. And every family across this great, entire, searching land will live longer in liberty, will live more splendid in expectation, and will be prouder to be American because of the Act that you have passed that I will sign today.

I wish that each of us could read President Johnson’s entire August 6 speech for many other noteworthy statements are shared. If you read his remarks, you will understand that August 6 is a day that we all must celebrate.

We already celebrate the struggle for the right to vote and rightfully so. We celebrate Bloody Sunday, the Selma to Montgomery March and other voting rights struggles in March each year. We commemorate the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and others who died in the struggle for the right to vote. We include the Voting Rights Act in our celebration. However, the legislative struggle for the Voting Rights Act was also a long and powerful struggle. The 1965 Voting Rights Act signed on August 6 was a concrete culmination of that struggle. August 6 must be lifted and celebrated. We must declare August 6 as National Voting Rights Day.

In our celebration of August 6, we must also recommit to preserving and strengthening the right to vote which is currently under determined attack. We must overcome the gutting of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by the U. S. Supreme Court. We must overcome the Supreme Court’s narrowing the breath and shallowing the depth of the Voting Rights Act. We must overcome the numerous state laws that make it more difficult to vote. We must have a day of national celebration to strengthen the right to vote for everyone.