Not long after the March 7, 1965, attack on activists marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler introduced H.R. 6400, known as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Television coverage of the violence, which became known as “Bloody Sunday,” shocked the nation. Support for reform grew, resulting in the most comprehensive voting rights legislation in 95 years.
Introduced on March 17, H.R. 6400 was crafted by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, who understood that even after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, stronger protections for voting rights were necessary to ensure unimpeded access to the polls. Johnson spoke before a Joint Session of Congress on March 15, 1965, to call on its Members to pass voting rights legislation: “This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, no hesitation and no compromise with our purpose. We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in. . . . We have already waited a hundred years and more, and the time for waiting is gone. . . . For from the window where I sit with the problems of our country I recognize that outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations, and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.”
Signed into law on August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act protected the right to vote for all citizens and made methods used to obstruct voter registration illegal, such as poll taxes and literacy tests.