Saturday, August 6, marks the fortieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing into law of the Voting Rights Act, considered by many to be the most comprehensive civil rights law ever passed. The act provides protection for voters against actions taken by states to limit participation in the electoral process, actions most often targeted toward black, Hispanic, and low-income citizens. The law banned literacy tests and the other barriers that southern states had erected since blacks won the vote in 1870. And in the three years after it passed, more than a million new nonwhite voters cast ballots in southern states.

As The Nation‘s unsigned editorial said this week, “By tearing down the barriers to equal opportunity at the ballot box, the act removed the essential political mechanisms that maintained segregation and white supremacy.” Several key provisions of the act expire in 2007, however, and Rev. Jackson, the NAACP and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition are taking the lead in campaigning for their renewal.

Click here to read a stirring speech given by Jackson to the NAACP convention a few weeks ago, click here to see how you can help and click here to read the actual text of the act itself.

These days, with each of the last two presidential elections marred by accounts of black voters being intentionally disenfranchised, the renewal–and strengthening–of the Voting Rights Act is more critical than ever. So let’s honor the proud anniversary of this act by extending its promise forty years later.