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Cover image for Bending toward justice : the Voting Rights Act and the transformation of American democracy
Title:
Bending toward justice : the Voting Rights Act and the transformation of American democracy
ISBN:
9780465018468
Physical Description:
xix, 314 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Contents:
The most powerful instrument -- Planting the First Seed -- An Ideal Place -- "Give Us the Ballot!" -- Nothing Can Stop Us -- To the Promised Land -- The Die Is Cast -- Breaking down injustice -- Where the Votes Are -- The Struggle of a Lifetime.
Summary:
When the Fifteenth Amendment of 1870 granted African Americans the right to vote, it seemed as if a new era of political equality was at hand. Before long, however, white segregationists across the South counterattacked, driving their black countrymen from the polls through a combination of sheer terror and insidious devices such as complex literacy tests and expensive poll taxes. Most African Americans would remain voiceless for nearly a century more, citizens in name only until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act secured their access to the ballot. In this book, the author a historian describes how black voters overcame centuries of bigotry to secure and preserve one of their most important rights as American citizens. The struggle that culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act was long and torturous, and only succeeded because of the courageous work of local freedom fighters and national civil rights leaders, as well as, ironically, the opposition of Southern segregationists and law enforcement officials, who won public sympathy for the voting rights movement by brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators. But while the Voting Rights Act represented an unqualified victory over such forces of hate, the author explains that its achievements remain in jeopardy. Many argue that the 2008 election of President Barack Obama rendered the act obsolete, yet recent years have seen renewed efforts to curb voting rights and deny minorities the act's hard-won protections. Legal challenges to key sections of the act may soon lead the Supreme Court to declare those protections unconstitutional.
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Summary

Summary

When the Fifteenth Amendment of 1870 granted African Americans the right to vote, it seemed as if a new era of political equality was at hand. Before long, however, white segregationists across the South counterattacked, driving their black countrymen from the polls through a combination of sheer terror and insidious devices such as complex literacy tests and expensive poll taxes. Most African Americans would remain voiceless for nearly a century more, citizens in name only until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act secured their access to the ballot.

In Bending Toward Justice , celebrated historian Gary May describes how black voters overcame centuries of bigotry to secure and preserve one of their most important rights as American citizens. The struggle that culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act was long and torturous, and only succeeded because of the courageous work of local freedom fighters and national civil rights leaders--as well as, ironically, the opposition of Southern segregationists and law enforcement officials, who won public sympathy for the voting rights movement by brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators. But while the Voting Rights Act represented an unqualified victory over such forces of hate, May explains that its achievements remain in jeopardy. Many argue that the 2008 election of President Barack Obama rendered the act obsolete, yet recent years have seen renewed efforts to curb voting rights and deny minorities the act's hard-won protections. Legal challenges to key sections of the act may soon lead the Supreme Court to declare those protections unconstitutional.

A vivid, fast-paced history of this landmark piece of civil rights legislation, Bending Toward Justice offers a dramatic, timely account of the struggle that finally won African Americans the ballot--although, as May shows, the fight for voting rights is by no means over.


Author Notes

Gary May is a professor of history at the University of Delaware. Winner of the Allan Nevins Prize of the Society of American Historians and author of four books, including The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo, May lives in Newark, Delaware.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

May's lively and cogent history of the Voting Rights Act is indispensable reading for anyone concerned about the erosion of voting rights that has accompanied the election of Barack Obama, America's first black president, especially as the issue is still up for debate in 2013, in a case to be heard by the Supreme Court. Drawing on a wealth of sources, University of Delaware historian May (Informant: the FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo) has constructed a vivid, fast-paced morality tale with clearly recognizable heroes, like Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer Bernard Lafayette, whose commitment to Christian nonviolence transformed a dispirited Alabama town, and villains, like Sherriff Jim Clark, whose propensity for violence inadvertently strengthened Martin Luther King Jr.'s cause. On Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, state troopers and local vigilantes in Selma, Ala., brutally attacked a small group of African-American nonviolent protesters. That event shocked the conscience of the nation and led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, perhaps the most lasting achievement of the Civil Rights movement. By focusing on Selma, May pays tribute to the courage of otherwise ordinary people and makes a case for the continued relevance of this legislation. Photos. Agent: John Wright. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

The Supreme Court will soon consider Shelby County (AL) v. Holder, challenging the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act (which Congress extended for 25 years in 2006). For readers who don't recall the era before the VRA's hard-fought passage, in 1965, University of Delaware historian May offers an involving narrative of the law's history and consequences. May's prologue sketches African American voting rights from the Emancipation Proclamation to the early 1960s and spotlights national leaders (Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Charles Evers, John Lewis, James Farmer, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.) present when Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law. In the chapters that follow, however, he stresses the critical work of lesser-known activists, like Amelia and Sam Boynton, Bernard Lafayette, and James Forman, and the powerful impact they and their intransigent opponents, Sheriff Jim Clark and Alabama governor George Wallace, had on public and congressional attitudes. May then traces the bill's dramatic legislative history, describes the results of its implementation, examines the issues in its four congressional reauthorizations, and outlines challenges it currently faces. An illuminating history of a law that remains all too relevant.--Carroll, Mary Copyright 2010 Booklist


Choice Review

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a seminal achievement of the civil rights movement and of Lyndon Johnson's presidency. Intended to ensure African Americans unconditional voting rights, the act transformed US politics; it has also come under fire since its passage nearly a half century ago. May's analysis examines three stages of the act's development. The first involves the voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, which included two pivotal moments in the civil rights movement: the Bloody Sunday confrontation in March 1965 at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the march from Selma to Montgomery. The second considers the legislative history of the bill. The third encompasses actions to undermine the act's effectiveness by suppressing votes, diminishing enforcement, gerrymandering, and forestalling renewal. May (Univ. of Delaware) focuses on Selma rather than surveying efforts in Mississippi and elsewhere more broadly to register African American voters, though the centrality of Selma in forcing the issue justifies this choice. The subsequent fate of the Voting Rights Act is the most innovative, provocative, and troubling section of the book, and justifies May's conclusion that the act's history involves a continuing struggle of "reform and reaction, advance and retreat." Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. A. J. Dunar University of Alabama in Huntsville


Kirkus Review

May (History/Univ. of Delaware; The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo, 2011, etc.) explores the agitation for, and the passage and continuing significance of, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In a meticulous, impassioned narrative, the author describes how determined activists in Selma, Ala., succeeded in mobilizing their community and many others in the Deep South to demand an end to the devious, cynical and violent practices that had excluded blacks from the voter rolls since the end of Reconstruction. Their campaign culminated in the horrific violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, an atrocity that galvanized the nation and forced a reluctant Lyndon Johnson to make passage of a muscular voting rights act an urgent priority. May delivers a fascinating account of the legislative maneuvering required to corral enough Republican votes to shut down the inevitable filibuster by southern Democrats and bring about final passage. After this point, however, the author's exposition loses its way. He needlessly follows Martin Luther King for the remainder of his life, then delves into a tedious summary of the various renewals and amendments to the act as it evolved from controversial enactment to legislative sacred cow. So successful has it been in enabling the registration and participation of hundreds of thousands of minority voters that controversies surrounding its application and even relevance in an era with a black president of the United States have become increasingly subtle and complex. May reviews a number of difficult issues at the core of the act's present significance, including the drawing of appropriate electoral district boundaries, the intent and effect of voter-identification laws, and the continuing legitimacy of pre-clearance provisions applicable only in certain jurisdictions guilty of discrimination half a century ago, but they deserve more thoughtful treatment than the uncritical acceptance of current liberal dogma that May offers. Superb history combined with superficial punditry.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

The Voting Rights Act (VRA), signed by President Johnson on August 6, 1965, was the legacy of the Fifteenth Amendment's (1870) unfulfilled promise of minority suffrage and a response to Jim Crow suppression. So claims May (history, Univ. Delaware; The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo) in a compelling, Howard Zinn-like style, stressing the actions of lesser-known civil rights activists who were willing to die for the right to vote. He clearly explains the complex legislative battles preceding passage of the act, which required LBJ's most persuasive leadership, Martin Luther King Jr.'s awe-inspiring speeches, and Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen's marshaling of his Republican troops to cross the aisle. May demonstrates that the VRA's reauthorizations in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1986, and 2006 required strong congressional guidance, but he asserts that its greatest challenge comes from the current voter ID bills in several states that could disenfranchise minorities, the poor, elderly, and students. -VERDICT This lucid investigation of the act's history relates its critical importance to American democracy. For general readers it is a fine companion to James Patterson's The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America, which places the act in the context of the year's political events.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


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