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Welcome to After the Dream, which examines the social, economic, and political implications of events in America’s South following the civil rights movement of the mid 1960s, and the ongoing struggle for black equality. In part five, Professor Timothy Minchin and Emeritus Professor John Salmond will discuss how voting rights changed in the south in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. We will start with Professor Minchin.
- Professor Timothy Minchin:
Voting rights is also quite a positive tale to go alongside public accommodations in that the black right to vote has been dramatically improved. There was some instances of ongoing discrimination that would be tackled very effectively by the Justice Department which implemented the legislation. In terms of voting rights a lot of progress has been made and of course this is shown through the election of Obama in 2008. And he tapped into the new black voters that had been registered under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
So in many ways his election was a culmination of the progress of black Americans into the political system that from 1965 to 2008, they gradually worked their way up the political operators going from local positions up to state positions and federal positions and then eventually the president.
The struggle for the ballot was very important for the Civil Rights Movement. The NAACP called the ballot the ticket to freedom so they saw voting rights as crucial for African-Americans. The thinking was that if you could vote, you could obviously influence public policies and that would lead to greater economic power in particular and in the area of voting rights there was marked progress shortly after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed.
The Federal Government sent examiners down into the states that were covered by the law, which were the deep side of states where the history of discrimination against black voters was most marked. And the federal examiners actually registered black voters and so got huge numbers of new black voters onto the books relatively quickly in states such as Mississippi where even in the early 1960s only about 5% of the eligible black population was registered to vote.
This increased dramatically within the space of a few years. It was up to about 60% in the neighbouring state of Alabama. It wasn't quite as bad as Mississippi for voting rights discrimination but again there was a huge jump in the number of registered black voters. By the late 1960s there was only a small gap between the percentage of whites that are registered in those states than the percentage of blacks.
Now that doesn't mean that everything was OK because there was continued resistance. The authorities in the south continually came up with techniques to try and dilute the black vote to jury-manned districts, or to change the voting system to so called at large systems which was a way of diluting the black votes essentially.
And it was a constant struggle between the Justice Department of the Federal Government and districts in the south that were continuing to resist which were mainly in the country areas again. So this meant that there were ongoing problems even after 1980, the period that John covers mainly in the book. You had continual voting rights clashes and cases that occurred showing that again, that was still resistance and opposition particularly in rural areas to black political power.
- Professor John Salmond
One of the chapters that I've covered these concerns, what many expected to be the decade of counter-evolution. I mean Ronald Regan is elected to the presidency with enormous support from the south. There are all sorts of symbolic gestures that he makes and real attempts to curb some of the provisions of the legislation. But on voting rights, it would have to be said that even the Justice Department under Regan and his appointees were pretty vigorous in prosecuting any violations to the Voting Rights Act.
It had, the problem being extended in the 1980s it was thought that for a while that Regan would not extend it but he did. And it's continued, its provisions continue to apply and the last extension was during the presidency of George W. Bush where it was extended for 25 years. On a vote, I think it was in 2007, a vote of like 98 to nothing in the senate. And although there were attempts to evade the Voting Rights Act, these were usually and continued to be pretty firmly resisted by the Department of Justice. And the key area was in the 1980s.
And that was Professor John Salmond. The book they co-authored is called ‘After the Dream: Black and White Southerners since 1965’. It is published by the University of Kentucky Press and is available from all good book stores.
Listen in next week , when Tim and John will discuss the effects the Civil Rights Movement had on education. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org