Image courtesy of Cokie Roberts, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
In this undated image, Majority Whip Hale Boggs of Louisiana meets with Speaker of the House John McCormack of Massachusetts in the U.S. Capitol.
On this date, Representative Hale Boggs
of Louisiana took to the House Floor to make a stirring speech in favor of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A year after the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, momentum for tougher voting rights legislation built rapidly after the infamous “Bloody Sunday March”
in which Alabama state troopers brutally beat peaceful civil rights protestors at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. An opponent of the 1964 civil rights legislation, Hale Boggs, the Majority Whip
(1961–1971) and a die-hard Southern Democrat, supported the bill to end the use of literacy tests for five years and to make illegal voter disqualification a federal crime. On the last day of debate, Boggs, a gifted orator and well-respected Member of the House, unexpectedly took to the floor to urge his colleagues to pass the legislation. “I wish I could stand here as a man who loves my State, born and reared in the South, who has spent every year of his life in Louisiana since he was 5 years old, and say there has not been discrimination,” Boggs remarked to the suddenly quiet chamber. “But unfortunately it is not so.” Boggs also spoke of the many African Americans living just south of the city of New Orleans who were not registered to vote as further evidence of the necessity of federal legislation. “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,” Boggs concluded. His colleagues gave him a standing ovation, and later passed the act by a vote of 333 to 85. Emanuel Celler
of New York—the longtime chairman of the House Judiciary Committee—remarked that Boggs’ speech “will go ringing through the ages.”