On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson called on Congress to pass legislation allowing African Americans to vote and to “extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land.” In making this declaration, President Johnson made the case that the fight for voting rights was not just for black people. “Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.”
Read this archived New York Times article for more choice quotes from President Johnson on voting rights, including whether this issue is a constitutional, moral, or states’ rights issue. To LBJ, it was none of the above: “It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote.”
In the speech, President Johnson refused to single out the South, where voting discrimination had turned violent as seen across TVs in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Instead, the president said voting discrimination was “an American problem. … In Buffalo as well as Birmingham, in Philadelphia as well as Selma.”
Fast forward forty-seven years ago today to Philadelphia as well as Selma. Pennsylvania’s Republican legislators passed a restrictive photo voter ID bill that was signed into law this week with glee by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, as the bill’s sponsor Representative Daryl Metcalfe—one of Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Dirty Dozen” anti-immigrant state legislators—looked over his shoulder.
In Alabama, the state passed an immigration bill so strife with civil and human rights violations that Reverend Al Sharpton brought activists back to Selma to re-enact the 1965 march that precipitated President Johnson to demand voting rights legislation. Alabama also passed a voter ID bill, though not as restrictive as Pennsylvania’s, but it can’t be enforced until the federal government reviews it, per the Voting Rights Act.