Historical Highlights

The Voting Rights Act of 1965

August 03, 1965
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 Image courtesy of Library of Congress Emanuel Celler of New York led the Judiciary Committee for 11 terms—the longest tenure for any chairman in the committee's history.
On this date, by a vote of 328 to 74, the House approved the Voting Rights Act (VRA)—a landmark in the long civil rights movement. The VRA suspended voter qualification devices, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, permitted the Justice Department to dispatch federal examiners into regions where voter registration lagged, and required the U.S. Attorney General to clear all new state and county voting practices. Bloody protests in Selma, Alabama, where local law enforcement viciously attacked marchers encouraging African-American voter registration, outraged public opinion and built support for the legislation. On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a nationally televised Joint Session of Congress, advocating the passage of federal legislation. Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler of New York led the charge, overcoming efforts by Rules Committee Chairman Howard Smith of Virginia to block the legislation from coming to the floor. Impassioned debate filled the month of July. While emphasizing his love of state, the South, and the country, Representative Hale Boggs of Louisiana declared, “I shall support this bill because I believe the fundamental right to vote must be a part of this great experiment in human progress under freedom which is America.” After the Senate concurred, President Johnson signed the bill into law on August 6, 1965.

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