The Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution (1870) asserts a citizen’s right to ‘vote… cannot be denied… on account of race, colour or previous condition of servitude’. Almost a century later, this was still ‘honoured more in the breach than the observance’ in the American South. Despite Civil Rights Acts (1957, 1964), the southern states continued to employ a battery of discriminatory practices aimed at black voter suppression, and registration rates remained lamentable. The Selma Voting Rights March (1965) proved seminal. Led by Martin Luther King, its violent suppression was televised, shocking the nation. The Voting Rights Act quickly followed. It had two key elements. First, it prohibited voting practices, standards or qualifications that were effectively discriminatory. Second, federal oversight, through examiners, was introduced where non-white registration remained below 50 per cent. Registrations increased significantly; actual voting turnout even more so – in Mississippi black voter turnout increased from 6 per cent (1964) to 59 per cent (1969).
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