In 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1,000 paratroops from the ‘Screaming Eagles’ 101st Airborne Division and 10,000 National Guard were deployed to enable nine black schoolchildren to attend a previously all-white school. Captured on television, the episode provoked a shocked President Eisenhower – no natural reformer – to promulgate the 1957 Civil Rights Act. But the Act was a craven compromise, and even the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, bulldozed through by Lyndon Johnson in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination, did not comprehensively address voter suppression in southern states. In March 1965, Martin Luther King staged a march from Selma, Alabama, to call for unimpeded black voter registration. Once more, it was the televised brutality of the reaction by state troopers that galvanized the legislature, which passed the Voting Rights Act in August 1965. Civil Rights activists spearheaded mass black electoral enrolment: in future elections, black turnout in both North and South would steadily converge.
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