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Students and Faculty Reflect on the Voting Rights Act of 1965

When students and faculty gathered in the McIntyre Conference Center on Thursday, September 17, they were asked one question: had they registered to vote?

As the audience members silently raised their hands, they were reminded that not too long ago, many of them would not even have had the right — let alone register —to cast a ballot.

The audience that afternoon had come out for the discussion “We Must be Vigilant: The Voting Rights Act 50 Years on” led by Rev. Marion Franklin, Ph.D., an adjunct professor in Africana studies. The discussion served as part of a year-long event series celebrating the 50th anniversary of when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. H’ 65 came to Saint Peter’s and earned an honorary degree.

The conversation focused on the history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the major impact it had on society during its passage as well as the impact it continues to have today.

“The Voting Rights Act is the most important piece of legislature as it relates to the civil rights of African Americans and other ethnic and racial minorities,” said Dr. Franklin.

He discussed the challenges of the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the pushback the Voting Rights Act had received, including how much of the hostility during that time stemmed from an underlying fear of social and political change. However, despite all the struggles, the Voting Rights Act passed — a success Dr. Franklin said was due to the structural transformation of American politics as well as the elevation of Lyndon B. Johnson as president.

“One has to admire the tenacity of those who struggled for the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” added Dr. Franklin.

Dr. Franklin also noted that although great strides have been made in social justice and equality, there are still challenges that people face every day. Toward the end of the lecture, he shared a thought with the audience that he said he tells his students.

“Racism is not about getting along — it’s about getting ahead,” he explained. “The struggle really continues.”