At Thursday’s board meeting, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners recognized the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and proclaimed Aug. 6 - 12 Voting Rights Week.
Fifty years ago this week, the Voting Rights Act became law. Today, The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners honored the move by proclaiming Aug. 6-12 Voting Rights Week in Multnomah County.
“From a personal standpoint, without the VRA, I know that I wouldn’t be sitting here today,” said Commissioner Loretta Smith, who brought forward the proclamation.
She thanked all those who fought so tirelessly including Rev. LeRoy Haynes of the Allen Temple Christian Methodist in Northeast Portland and George Hocker Jr., the public advocate in Smith’s office.
Haynes and Hocker have spent their lives striving for racial equity.
“There are always forces that want to return back to the past,” Haynes said. “There’s a sense that we have to honor the past but also continue to forge our future.”
The recognition comes after a long and tumultuous battle between advocates for racial equality and the federal government - one that is not over yet.
In 2013 the Supreme Court nullified a section of the Voting Rights Act that protected minority voters in jurisdictions that attempted to implement voting laws and regulations that excluded minority voters.
Not long after the section of the act was rescinded, Texas enacted a strict ID law requiring potential voters to bring a government-issued photo to the booth - something poor and minority voters are less likely to have.
This recent legislation comes after a long history of Southern states manipulating the law, keeping communities of color out of the voting booths. With the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870, all men regardless of race were allowed to vote. But literacy laws, poll taxes and other discriminatory obstacles chipped away at those rights for people of color.
The turning point in the movement for the right to vote came on March 7, 1965 when Rev. Martin Luther King led more than 600 protesters from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, police forces ascended, using tear gas and nightsticks to seize the crowd.
The images captured on that day circulated around the world, putting pressure on the federal government to act.
Then, on Aug. 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Since then, the act has been questioned, weakened and compromised at a local and national level. But today’s proclamation is both a reflection on the past and a look to the future.
“We do things a little differently in Oregon -- but we have to because we have a horrible, horrible history of racism and discrimination,” Chair Deborah Kafoury pointed out at Thursday’s meeting. “It is incumbent upon us to continue everyday to take steps forward, even as others take steps back.”