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According to the Department of Justice, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the Congress of the United States. That’s quite a statement. It is fitting and appropriate, therefore, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this landmark statute in conjunction with this year’s Constitution Day.

Ten years ago, Professor Donna Hoffman and I were on a voting rights panel to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Voting Rights Act. I do not know how much longer we are going to be able to keep doing this. Sitting between Professor Hoffman and me on that occasion was The Reverend Joseph Lowery. Some of you may know that name. Reverend Lowery was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I believe, on “Bloody Sunday” in March 1965. He marched with Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy, Julian Bond and other civil rights leaders. Back in 2005, he was in his 80s. He is now about to turn 94. I do not recall much about the specifics of what Reverend Lowery said ten years ago, but I remember being in awe of his patience and lack of bitterness. He held forth on the indignities that he faced in advocating for voting rights. If he were here today, I would be very interested to hear his thoughts on the current state of voting rights in the United States--particularly in light of recent court decisions modifying aspects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And I think he would also have some reactions to the passage of several state laws—thankfully not in Iowa—that make it tougher for people to vote.

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©2016 John W. Johnson



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