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Historical Highlights

An Extraordinary Joint Session of Congress to Support the Voting Rights Bill

March 15, 1965
An Extraordinary Joint Session of Congress to Support the Voting Rights Bill Image courtesy of Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library   On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
On this date, in response to a brutal assault by local officials against civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, President Lyndon B. Johnson held an extraordinary Joint Session of Congress to garner support for a landmark voting rights bill. At the invitation of bipartisan congressional leaders, Johnson addressed a prime time audience on the three major television networks. The President’s legislation guaranteed that African Americans could register and vote in local and federal elections by banning literacy tests, appointing federal vote registrars, and imposing federal penalties against anyone who interfered with voting. Eleven demonstrators, protesting just outside the House Chamber, demanded that Speaker of the House John McCormack of Massachusetts reduce the size of the Alabama state delegation because of its voting rights abuses. The protestors sat for five hours and even met briefly with the Speaker before being removed three hours before President Johnson’s speech. Reviews of the President’s legislation were mixed. Senator Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana threatened to filibuster the bill in the Senate while Speaker McCormack called it a “tribute to mature, civilized, and democratic government.” The Voting Rights Act, which overwhelmingly passed both the House and Senate, was signed into law on August 6, 1965.

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