Study Guide

Voting Rights Act Compare and Contrast

By U.S. Congress

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  • Civil Rights Act, 1964

    As long as we've got you in a legislative mood, check out Johnson's 1964 civil rights legislation.

    While a voting rights section rides along the beginning of this legal document as well, most of this law's provisions aim more squarely at striking down Jim Crow laws in the private sector; looking to demolish the notion of "separate but equal" spaces for both customers and employees alike. That means good riddance to heinous stuff like separate drinking fountains, swimming pools, lunch counters—you name it.

    While it's easy to look at each individual act in the Civil Rights legal suite individually, each one's linked fundamentally in their approach to sweeping change in the year 1964. Yeah: 1964 was a good year for changing some of the nastiness happening in America.

  • Civil Rights Address, John F. Kennedy, 1963

    While Kennedy didn't get around to passing any legislation himself before he met his untimely demise, the Civil Rights Address did provide the lightning rod for LBJ to get the kind of traction he did on the Civil Rights agenda after JFK's death.

    The core thrust of his speech is simple: it's abominable that the nation's Black citizens are denied any real chance of prosperity and success in the United States, and it's tone-deaf and lacking any sense of justice for people to ask them to kindly wait their turn.

    Most importantly, he commits to demanding Congress that they back him on this play. This urge, so close to his own death, must have echoed in the back of Congress' mind in the days of mourning to follow. In proposing and passing the Civil Rights legislation, Congress was making good on JFK's request in this speech.

  • "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King Jr., 1963

    Of course, in turn, JFK's rhetoric in his Civil Rights Address carries the unmistakable thrust of this famous and eloquent 1963 letter.

    Seriously: take a second to check out the whole thing. To say it's a "must-read" is a massive understatement.

    In a response to a newspaper article penned by eight clergymen condemning King, King lays it out flat: that there is no patiently waiting for Civil Rights to be handed over. The time for patience is way past.

    Unless challenged, condemned, and openly resisted, the powers that be aren't going to bother to make a lick of progress. While nations in Asia and Africa were moving at jetlike speed towards political revolution, African Americans are still "creep[ing] at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter."

    And they've been creeping at this pace for the last 340 years.

    This delay is unconscionable, and those who sit back and condemn protesters for causing disruptions are even more baffling than those who oppose them outright. At least, with them, you know where they stand.

    Want more? Check out our complete guide to the letter here.

  • Voting Rights Act Address, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965

    Since we're spending so much time talking about the bill, we should probably also take a peek at what LBJ had to say about the bill.

    At its heart, hisspeech digs back to the promises made to the American people in the name of equality. All too often, our central creeds feel like lip service—we talk the talk, but seem to have a little bit of a struggle when it comes to walking the walk. And, as he clearly states, that is a problem that all Americans have a genuine stake in correcting.

    Also crucially, he makes an explicit notice that discrimination is more than racist attacks; it's baked into our legal systems, and the people who enforce them. No law has power if it's ignored, after all.

    But, with this act, the federal government can continue to move closer and closer to that affirmation made a couple of hundred years prior: that "all men are created equal."

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