No turning back

Civil-rights activists must remain vigilant to ensure voting rights

Champions of the civil-rights movement have been celebrating over the last week the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington—that historic day (Aug. 28, 1963) during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed hundreds of thousands who’d gathered at the nation’s capital in support of equality.

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial—one of the most recognizable public talks in the history of the United States—still induces goosebumps.

Locally, several Chicoans recalled attending the march, and planned to mark the anniversary with a local gathering (see “A walk to remember,” by Ken Smith, Newslines, page 8).

Race relations have come a long way in the past 50 years, but the civil-rights movement was set back earlier this summer when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a split decision, struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a provision requiring federal oversight for changes to voting procedures in states with a history of discrimination. Now, congressional oversight is based only on current conditions that reveal an elevated risk of intentional discrimination.

Already, certain states are attempting to implement controversial alterations, such as one in Texas that would require voters to show photo identification.

Next summer, the United States will celebrate another milestone in the struggle for racial equality, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law banning discrimination against minorities and women. The summer thereafter marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act was predicated on the progress that’s been made over the past five decades. In our minds, that progress shows how well the law had worked with Congress having oversight. We believe the Supreme Court made the wrong decision.

Too much is at stake here. These landmark laws must be remembered, and the public must lobby Congress to ensure the continuation of voting rights.