The 1965 Voting Rights Act

The 1965 Voting Rights Act

The 1965 Voting Rights Act made it possible for all American citizens to exercise their right to vote. It followed on from the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which had provoked an outbreak of violence in the South a year earlier.

President Johnson explained the importance of a Voting Rights Act in a memorable speech to Congress:

“There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans—not as Democrats or Republicans--we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.

“To apply any other test—to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race, his religion or the place of his birth—is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom.”

Congress recognised the public and federal support for the bill. The voting rights bill was passed in the U.S. Senate by a 77-19 vote on 26 May 1965.

The Act outlawed poll taxes and literacy tests as a way of assessing who could vote. In the past, black citizens were required to jump through a series hoops in order to register to vote. Now, all they needed was citizenship.

The act had a huge impact on voter turnout. In 1966, only four out of 13 Southern states, had less than 50 per cent of African Americans registered to vote. By 1968, even Mississippi - a notoriously racist state - 59 per cent of African Americans had registered to vote. It also meant that over time more and more Black Americans were elected into public office. The Act allowed African Americans to finally exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Whilst demonstrations had challenged the culture of racism, permanent change could only come from Federal government. Johnson illustrated this. However, Johnson’s achievements have to be viewed in the political context of the time -  Democrats dominated the Congress, meaning it was easier for him to push through civil rights legislation.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was followed in 1968 by the Fair Housing Act, which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race.

See also: Stokeley Carmichael


MLA Citation/Reference

"The 1965 Voting Rights Act". 2023. Web.