Ed. note: This is cross-posted on Medium.
The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights of any democracy.
Fifty years ago today, because of the sacrifice of countless men and women, that right was secured for more Americans.
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law — breaking down legal barriers at the state and local level that had prevented African Americans and others from exercising their constitutional right to vote.
Because of that law — one of our nation’s most influential pieces of legislation — Americans who were previously disenfranchised and left out of the democratic process were finally able to cast a ballot. The law was designed to ensure that all American citizens, regardless of the color of their skin, had an equal opportunity to make their voices heard.
But that law didn’t come to pass because folks suddenly decided it was the right thing to do.
This past March, I had the honor of traveling to Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery. Those who marched over the course of those five days in 1965 were fighting to ensure that African Americans could exercise their right to vote under the 15th Amendment of our Constitution. They were marching in the face of a segregationist system that wanted to deny them that right.
And on one afternoon, two visions of America met on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Those nonviolent marchers, representing the idea that all men and women are created equal and deserved to be treated as such, stared into the faces of those who represented a South that stood for the racial segregation and oppression of Jim Crow.
Roughly 600 people stood on the right side of history that day — armed only with their faith, and the conviction that we could be better. They were willing to sacrifice their own bodies in order to help bring America closer to its ideals of equality and justice for all.