Key Moments in the Fight for Civil Rights

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August, 1965 – The Voting Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had one major flaw: It did not address all the legal and illegal methods whites had used to systematically deny blacks the right to vote in state and local elections. At the end of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965, activists present Governor George Wallace with a petition asking him to remove obstacles to voter registration. Americans see the heroes of the civil rights movement on the national news, and then hear about the Ku Klux Klan’s murder of a white homemaker from Michigan named Viola Liuzzo who had volunteered for the cause. Support for the Voting Rights Act — which was already winding its way through Congress — increases.

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the act into law with Alabama NAACP activist Rosa Parks by his side. Laying out the importance of the bill, Johnson says, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”

Much of this text is excerpted, with permission, from the website for the American Experience series Eyes on the Prize. Read more about these events and others on that site.

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