Civil rights: How different is today from 1965?

The federal Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Ironically, it passed just a year after Republican Senator Barry Goldwater’s launched his southern strategy in his race against Lyndon Johnson for president. Johnson’s commitment to civil rights as well as his Great Society meant that progressives would have very little strength in the South. However, as more and more African-Americans became enfranchised to vote, progressives achieved a number of important victories in the south, albeit primarily on the state and local level.

Recent pronouncements by Republican leaders, including presidential candidates, clearly indicate that they have not accepted the most progressive victories in the New Deal, Great Society, and as recent as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. One of these areas is voting rights. On Tuesday, March 13, Rachel Maddow interviewed Rev. Al Sharpton about a variety of issues related to voting rights. Below is a key excerpt from the interview. Also included is a link to the actual interview. Rachel Maddow’s introduction to the topic is about five minutes long; the remaining five minutes in the clip contain her interview with Rev. Sharpton.

Maddow: With the challenges to voting rights, in Alabama, Mississippi, even Wisconsin. etc., is it 1965 all over again?

Sharpton: I think that it’s the spirit of 1965. I think that we’ve gone from the poll tax to now photo ID. It’s like we’ve gone from Jim Crow to James Crow, Jr., Esquire. It’s more polished, more sophisticated, but the results are the same. If you an impact disproportionately on poor people, working class people, students who don’t have this kind of photo ID, seniors, and minorities, it’s designed to stifle the vote. Well that’s what Dr. King and others fought against in 1965 where they just outright wouldn’t let people vote. Here you’re putting an impediment there but you know what the results will be. It’s “fixing” a problem that doesn’t exist; there is no massive voter fraud. There was 0.0003% according to the Bush Administration of fraud that they found. So why are we changing the law when there’s no reason to change ID? We’re not against ID. Why not use the same kind of ID they used when Reagan ran or Clinton ran or both Bushes ran? Why all of a sudden now do you need it? You’re only see it [concern about voter ID] in the general election where they are targeting, trying to make it difficult for certain people who are trying to vote.

Maddow: Texas almost made it too easy to see the partisan dimensions here. You could argue that ID is not about race, even though it has a disproportionate racial impact; that’s not what it was about; you can make that same argument about the poll tax back in the day, but Texas did this nice thing where they decided that the voter ID that would count includes your license to carry a gun but not your student ID.

Sharpton: In Georgia, you can use your ID from certain state universities but not from certain historically black colleges. So I mean they have not been very subtle about it and I think that our job is to inform the public and I think that the Justice Department’s job is right; they have to pre-clear where there is a disproportionate impact on minority voters. It is ironic to me and insulting that we would as a nation celebrate Dr. King and then undermine what Dr. King is being celebrated for. One of them is voting rights.


Note: Interview with Al Sharpton begins 5 minutes into clip.