Economic marginalization, and social and political exclusion were institutionalized as Jim and Jane Crow-ism in the South and much of the rest of the nation.

     In many places African Americans struggled against the lack of enforcement of their Fourteenth as well as Fifteenth Amendment rights. White resistance to African Americans attempting access to the exercise of their voting rights took the form of physical intimidation and outright violence and of the imposition of poll taxes and literacy tests. More immediately, as congressional legislators debated and voted to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, they lived in the same decade in which white resistance to the Brown decision and the Civil Rights Movement fueled a Southern Manifesto that argued for southern state sovereignty and the prerogative to ignore, deny, or trivialize civil rights efforts and laws.

     Where many in the nation, Congress, the Courts, and even the Justice Department had turned their backs on the egregious treatment of African Americans during the decades preceding the Civil Rights Movement, southern racists fully expected to continue racism as usual and to crush civil rights activists and their Movement without interference from the federal government or the courts. Hence, in Congress' choice to position itself in defense of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution lies the key to African Americans accessing many of their rights. As history bears witness, Congress' votes and the Court's validation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) under antagonistic litigation pressure situated the federal government on the side of civil rights enforcement and white supremacy containment.

     In fact, Congress had a lot of help, encouragement, and prodding in voting to do the right thing. Although President Johnson's impassioned speech shortly after "Bloody Sunday" signaled his insistence that Congress do the right thing, as a southerner he was -- in addressing the nation with his every word in support of the VRA -- ushering in a new dawning reality, namely, that the time had come for the exercise of Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments rights by African Americans.

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November 1999