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civil rights

President Lyndon Johnson, left, shakes civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s hand immediately after signing the Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965.
Yoichi Okamoto / LBJ Library Photo (Public Domain)

Next week marks the third anniversary of an incredibly consequential U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions of landmark civil rights legislation. The high court’s 5-4 ruling in Shelby County vs. Holder meant that Alabama and many other southern states no longer had to seek federal approval to change their election laws under the Voting Rights Act.

But what happened, and how we got there, is so much more complicated. To really understand the narrative arc of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, you have to go back 100 years to the end of the Civil War and the three so-called “Reconstruction Amendments” to the U.S. Constitution. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments outlawed slavery, established citizenship for blacks, and gave them the right to vote.

KGOU staff

The civil rights movement of the 1960s brought forward concerns about voting rights, segregation, and proportional representation.  While the focus of similar racial protest has most recently shifted to aggressive policing and apparent inequities within the criminal justice system, University of Oklahoma educator and author George Henderson considers the current Black Lives Matter movement an extension of what he witnessed during the 1960s - with similar aims of ensuring  justice for African-Americans.

Here & Now is marking the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act by listening to some of the voices of the time, especially President Lyndon Johnson, who made civil rights a priority of his administration, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

For the month of August, Morning Edition and The Race Card Project are looking back at a seminal moment in civil rights history: the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream Speech" Aug. 28, 1963. Approximately 250,000 people descended on the nation's capital from all over the country for the mass demonstration.

Bob Moses is 78, but he has the same probing eyes you see behind thick black glasses in photos from 50 years ago when he worked as a civil rights activist in Mississippi. The son of a janitor, Moses was born and raised in Harlem. He's a Harvard-trained philosopher and a veteran teacher.

He started a math training program — the Algebra Project — with a MacArthur "Genius Grant" 30 years ago. The goal is simple: Take students who score the worst on state math tests, double up on the subject for four years and get them ready to do college-level math by the end of high school.

Suzette Grillot and Rebecca Cruise discuss Friday evening's "Syria: Not Our War" protest at the State Capitol, and what questions it raises about the growing U.S. involvement in Syria.

Rajdeep Singh, the Washington, D.C. Director of Law and Policy for the New York City-based Sikh Coalition, discusses his organization's civil rights work, including their 2009 effort in Oklahoma to stop legislation from advancing that would have prohibited motorists from wearing head scarves or other coverings in their driver’s license photos.

Henry Gass / Flickr Creative Commons

Nearly a year ago, a white supremacist killed six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek.

The August 5, 2012 attack in Wisconsin was one of several incidents in the past decade against members of the South Asian religion.

“Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 environment, the prevailing stereotype is that if somebody wears a turban, they're affiliated with al-Qaeda,” says Rajdeep Singh, the Washington, D.C. Director of Law and Policy for the New York City-based Sikh Coalition. “And I think this has explained a lot of the violence and bigotry that is too-often directed at Sikhs.”

In 2009 the Sikh Coalition worked to stop Oklahoma legislation from advancing that would have prohibited motorists from wearing head scarves or other coverings in their driver’s license photos.