On August 6, 2015, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The Voting Rights Act is landmark federal legislation that was enacted during the Civil Rights Movement and was intended to prevent racial discrimination in voting. Prior to that, even though African Americans had the right to vote, barriers such as literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation, threats and even violence prevented many people of color from voting. For almost 50 years the Voting Rights Act secured and safeguarded the right to vote for millions of Americans.
There have been recent developments, however, that threaten voting rights. In addition to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling Shelby County v. Holder that gutted key elements of the Voting Rights Act, in many states there are restrictions on voting rights that disenfranchise Americans and disproportionately impact African Americans, Latinos, young people and elderly voters. Voting rights for all is a key component of any democracy and that right is in peril for hundreds of thousands of Americans.
This lesson provides an opportunity for high school students to explore the difference between the right to vote and the ability to vote, learn more about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and reflect on some of the current day threats to voting rights and what can be done about it.