After years of work to extend the basic right to vote to black Americans, the event that probably kicked the effort to pass the Act occurred five months earlier, when voting rights marchers were attacked by state troopers and local police at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Congressman John Lewis was one of those beaten. It was nothing new for peaceful activists to be met with violence; many had died in the effort to ensure every American could vote. But “Bloody Sunday,” as it came to be known, was broadcast over national television, putting the violence into millions of American living rooms. President Johnson called for a Voting Rights Act 8 days later.
The Act passed the Senate over a filibuster, 77-19. It passed in the House 333-85. Can you imagine what would happen if this bill came before the current Congress?
In fact, voting rights have been under assault since the Supreme Court inflicted us with the Shelby County decision, with Chief Justice Roberts essentially saying the Act was no longer needed. States then scrambled to pass voter suppression laws, but the current Court has recently struck down several of those. What a difference a Justice, or lack of one, makes.