The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, and every (25) years the Act has come before Congress and it has been renewed and signed into law.Prior to his death, Lewis was pushing and using all the strength he could muster calling on his colleagues on both sides of the isle in Congress to support passage of a “permanent Voting Rights Bill.”
Said Lewis, “We have ‘acted’ long enough. It’s time to make the Voting Rights Act permanent!”
Since his death, many in Congress are calling for the Voting Rights Act to be renamed in honor of John Lewis.
In the fall of 1964, only months after signing into law the Civil Rights Bill, then President Lyndon B. Johnson, met in the Oval Office with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a young John Lewis and members of the Civil Rights Movement. President Johnson welcomed the group believing more congratulationswere coming for the historic passage of the Civil Rights Bill.The Civil Rights leadership group was beyond mere praise, they sought further actions to move the country forward.
The passage of the Civil Rights Bill put America on course to be the nation it set out to be during the early years, “a nation standing on the principles of Liberty and Justice for All!
A clear indicator of that justice and equality was the immediate removal of signs that read “White Only and Colored” as well as public accommodations, the Negro (classification used at the time) still had not secured the power of the Vote. The group asked Johnson to push Congress for a Voting Rights Bill.
President Johnson, recalled Lewis was agasp. He (President Johnson), responded, “We/I just signed the Civil Rights Bill. There are no (none) votes for a Voting Rights Bill.”You all have to generate the votes/concern. Make us sign a Voting Rights Bill”, stated the President.
The Civil Rights group left the Oval Office not discouraged, but encouraged. They huddled and planned their next move.The group decided on a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama, to commemorate the death of a young man killed standing up for voting rights.
Dr. King dispatched a member of his inner circle (Hosea Williams) to Selma and then requested John Lewis, the president of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) to lead the March.
On the morning of March 6, after a brief prayer service the march to Selma began…… “It was a cool morning,” noted Lewis who wore a top coat and also had on a backpack. Lewis recalled the day years later, “I thought we might get arrested and having been arrested (several times), I had an apple and an orange, two books and a tooth brush and toothpaste.”While the potential for violence (on the part of the majority) was always a possibility, what we encountered once we crossed the Edmound Pettus Bridge was without question unbelievable,” Lewis shared.
What Lewis and the six-hundred marchers experienced was nothing short of a hostile, hate inspired and warfare like confrontation.
Alabama State Troopers mounted on horseback and with night-sticks pounced on the Marchers, beating and pounding the men, women and youth without mercy.Lewis, who was in the front sustained a cracked skull as did many of the Marchers.
Unconscious and barely holding on to life, Lewis and the masses of injured were given temporary treatment in a home back on the other side of the Pettus Bridge. As the Troopers surrounded the home to complete the task. A member of the beaten group emerged and stated “We have a man and members down. “The use of the term “man down” was recognized in the military sense of the word. The Troopers backed off, Lewis and the other injured were rushed to a hospital.
The incident on that tragic day became known as Bloody Sunday. It paved the way for Congress and the country as a whole to take note.It raised the question, “how could this happen in America after the passage of the Civil Rights Bill?
Weeks later, Dr. King and his team, accompanied by the National Guard and journalist from across the country and around the world descended on Alabama for the return march. The successful march heightened the call for a Voting Rights Bill. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and Johnson signed it into law. It was a landmark moment in American history.
What the John Lewis Act would do:The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act restores the protections lost in the Voting Rights Act by restoring critical weight in three areas:
1). Modernizing the Voting Rights formulas to clarify through strict examination which states and localities have a pattern of discrimination.
2). Ensuring that last-minute voting changes do not adversely affect voters by requiring officials to publicly announce all voting changes at least 180 days before an election.
3). And equally important, expanding the government’s authority to send federal observers to any jurisdiction where there may be a substantial risk of discrimination at the polls on Election Day or during an early voting period.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and in the Senate by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on February 26, 2019 (S. 561). The bill was passed in the House by a vote of 228-187 on December 6, 2019. On July 22, 2020, Sen. Leahy reintroduced the bill as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 4263) to honor the late civil rights hero and voting rights champion. Senate Demo crates must act should and must act now! Every American should be concerned about a fair and equitable process to the polls. What does the GOP fear? Now is the time to recognize the life’s work and mission that Congressman Lewis dedicated his life for.
Congress, properly honor the late John Lewis by passing (S.4263). Contact your Congressional Representatives and urge them to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights. Advancement Act. If not now when??
Danny L. White currently lives in Phoenix, AZ. He is the author and creative lead for the Sensational letter “S”, a children’s book focused on early reading comprehension and word development. He is also a Adjunct faculty member at Maricopa College, and staff reporter for the Arizona Informant.