Today on The BradCast, special coverage in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the crowning jewel legislation of the civil rights movement, written with the blood and tears of thousands, and now under fire today as it has never been since its passage helped lift the nation out from under the shackles of the Jim Crow era.
Sam Walker historian at Selma, Alabama's National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, joins us to discuss the Act's history and legacy — from the circumstances of the courageous Bloody Sunday march from Selma to Montgomery that finally resulted in the passage of the VRA, to the release of the movie Selma last year.
Among other things, he reminds us of the difficulty African-Americans faced in simply trying to register to vote in the deep south prior to the VRA. "Two days a month — the first Monday and the third Monday — were the only two days you could go and attempt to register," he told me. "Those were the days when they would see people coming and they would lock the door when they tried to come inside….You still couldn't register because you couldn't get inside the building to sign up."
Walker, who we haven't had on the show since the 40th anniversary of the VRA back in 2005, shares stories that need to be heard, even today. One, for example, about his meeting, years later, with one of the state troopers who took part in the beatings on Bloody Sunday. Another, about the importance of cameras and national media on that infamous day in Selma.
"The people in the media had their cameras set up when the attack happened, so when people were being beaten and tear-gassed, all those scenes were captured by the TV cameras and by the news media on camera. And that started a new momentum to try to get the right to vote for all our citizens." Sound familiar?
Then, former DoJ Civil Rights Voting Section attorney Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez of the Advancement Project, joins us to discuss the ongoing legal battles in the fight for voting rights across the country in the wake of the US Supreme Court gutting the VRA's landmark Section 5 provision in 2013 — and the battle to restore it.
"All we have to do is look around us and unless they're living in a bubble, they can see that's there's been a renaissance in discrimination in voting since they took away that protection," she explains. From Congress to Texas to North Carolina to Wisconsin and beyond, the fight continues 50 years later.
"There are many, many voting changes across the country, and particularly in the South, at the local level that do all kinds of maneuvers of politicians trying to manipulate the vote. Moving poling places away from people of color — that happens a lot in the Native American community, the African-American community. We've seen laws requiring documentary proof of citizenship that have a strong disparate impact on the Latino community and the African-American community. For example, if you're a naturalized citizen and you don't have those papers, it's going to cost you at least $600 to get what's needed" to vote, she says. "All of this would have been subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."
Culliton-Gonzalez reminds us, as the NC NAACP civil rights leader Reverend William Barber says, "this is our Selma".
Finally, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), beaten by state troopers on Bloody Sunday as he courageously and stoically helped lead the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge as a 25-year old, discusses the importance of LBJ signing the Act in 1965. It's one of many historical sounds and songs that help us mark this historic day.
I hope you enjoy today's very special program!…