Voting Rights Act of 1965
Voting Rights Act of 1965
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, a momentous achievement in the struggle for equal rights.
When President Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment, freeing the nation’s slaves on January 31, 1865, it was not the end of oppression of African Americans, but rather the beginning of a journey toward full citizenship and participation in the democratic process. The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” However, many Southern states began to deny African Americans their constitutional rights by creating poll taxes and convoluting the methods of voter registration to discriminate against African Americans.
African Americans were not only discriminated against with regards to voting rights, but in almost all other aspects of their lives due to the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) Supreme Court judgment, which allowed for the separate but equal treatment of the races. In 1954, the case was overturned by the Supreme Court judgement in Brown v. The Board of Education, propelling the Civil Rights movement forward, and encouraging leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to continue the fight for equal rights, including voting rights.
Through nationwide peaceful demonstrations, the Civil Rights movement captured the attention of the media, the public, and politicians alike. It became clear that the vast majority Americans were unwilling to tolerate the discriminatory practices of certain states.
Many years of activism culminated in the signing of the Voting Rights Act. The Act prohibited any jurisdiction from implementing a “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right … to vote on account of race,” color or creed. The results were instantaneous: 250,000 new voters were registered by the end of 1965 and more than half of all African American citizens were registered by 1967.
In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a key provision in the Act, which explicitly forbade states from changing their election laws without federal approval. Immediately, representatives such as Congressman John Lewis began drafting legislation to reinstate it. The proposed reinstatement of the original provision from the 1965 law has received bipartisan backing.
The images shown here are scans of the first and signature pages of this act. Download a high-resolution version of the entire act from the National Archives’ online catalog.
Past Featured Records
To celebrate National Inventors’ Day, learn about Marjorie S. Joyner and her groundbreaking permanent wave machine, an innovation that revolutionized the time-intensive task of curling or straightening women’s hair. Over her 50-year career, Joyner trained thousands of students and helped write the first cosmetology laws in... Read more
Seventy-five years ago on January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Russian soldiers discovered thousands of sick, dying, and dead prisoners when they entered the complex of concentration camps, forced labor camps, and a killing center abandoned by the... Read more
To mark the 50th anniversary of the end of Project Blue Book, the National Archives will display records from the Air Force’s unidentified flying objects (UFOs) investigations.
Report of a “flying saucer” over U.S. airspace in 1947 caused a wave of “UFO hysteria” and sparked... Read more
Visit the National Archives to see exclusive, featured documents from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. From transcripts to flight plans, the museum will highlight some of the most important pieces of the monumental occasion. Documents will be on display through August 7, 2019 in the Rotunda... Read more
On June 6, 1944, Allied forces launched the greatest amphibious invasion the world has ever seen. The historic D-day invasion of Normandy, France, was a turning point in World War II, but it was just the initial assault in a massive operation that liberated Western Europe... Read more