The Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson (1908-73) on August 6, 1965, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States.
After the U.S. Civil War (1861-65), the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Nevertheless, in the ensuing decades, various discriminatory practices were used to prevent African Americans, particularly those in the South, from exercising their right to vote.
During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, voting rights activists in the South were subjected to various forms of mistreatment and violence. One event that outraged many Americans occurred on March 7, 1965, when peaceful participants in a voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery were met by Alabama state troopers who attacked them with nightsticks, tear gas and whips after they refused to turn back.
Some protesters were severely beaten, and others ran for their lives. The incident was captured on national television.
The voting rights bill was passed in the U.S. Senate by a 77-19 vote on May 26, 1965. After debating the bill for more than a month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 333-85 on July 9. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders present at the ceremony.