President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965. He is pictured here greeting Martin Luther King Jr., Clarence Mitchell and Patricia Roberts Harris at the signing ceremony in the U.S. Capitol that day. Our guest on this episode calls the VRA game-changing, but it entered the crosshairs of white Southern powerbrokers immediately. And in 2013, the Supreme Court did away with its most important feature — “preclearance” required by the Justice Department for discriminatory voting laws.
Photography by Yoichi Okamoto via the LBJ Library
In 1890, Mississippi adopted a new constitution that offered a blueprint for Jim Crow. It all but banned African Americans from voting, erecting a charade of roadblocks: poll taxes, literacy tests and other targeted assaults on the franchise. As historian Carol Anderson explains, such laws blocked Black citizens from polling booths for decades. And today, she says — as the core safeguards of the Voting Rights Act unravel — Americans keep risking their lives to protect the kernel of democracy: their ballots.
About our guest
Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and the author, most recently, of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. She has appeared on major network news programs such as the PBS NewsHour, and contributes the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Time and other popular media. Follow her on Twitter @ProfCAnderson.
This episode was recorded in August and posted on Sept. 22, 2020.
What we’re reading
By our guest
One Person, No Vote exposes how modern-day voter suppression is working in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision of 2013. Anderson shows how voter-ID laws and widespread poll closures have replaced poll taxes and literacy tests as the new magic tricks of disenfranchisement. And she explores how new forms of voting-rights activism have arisen in response to these efforts.
Anderson is also author of the New York Times bestseller White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Nation’s Divide.
In 2018, Anderson argued that Brian Kemp’s campaign for governor in her home state of Georgia relied on keeping voters away from the polls.
And in the Wisconsin primaries this year, Republicans capitalized on the coronavirus pandemic to suppress the vote, Anderson says. It may have been a dry run for applying similar tactics in the general election next month.
From around the web
For more on the history of voter suppression, from the post-Reconstruction era to the present, check out this timeline from ABC News.
According to Vox correspondent Ian Millhiser, Chief Justice John Roberts was bent on dismantling the Voting Rights Act from a young age. Download and read Roberts’s majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder — and the dissenting opinion by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
And this op-ed in The Intercept highlights recent efforts, inspired by Rep. John Lewis, to restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
A transcript of this episode is available here.