Monday, 23 February 2015

Conference on Selma and the Voting Right Act, 1965-2015

“This act,” proclaimed President Johnson to Congress on August 6, 1965, “flows from a clear and simple wrong. Its only purpose is to right that wrong. Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which no American, true to our principles, can deny.” *

From 8th - 9th April, 2015 Northumbria University’s History and American Studies programmes will host a conference on “Selma and the Voting Right Act, 1965-2015.” 
LBJ signing VR Act, Aug '65. Courtesy of

Where do things stand half a century later? Two years ago Andrew Cohen, contributing editor at the Atlantic, reflected on the law's longer term meaning:

It is undeniable that the Voting Rights Act dramatically sped up the process of preserving and protecting the vote for minority citizens. How much has been achieved? "In some circumstances, minorities register to vote and cast ballots at levels that surpass those of white voters," noted a 2006 House Report which accompanied the act's renewal. But the law was -- and still is today -- a means and not an end. And in the same way that opposition to integration did not immediately end following the Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, opposition to minority voting rights did not magically disappear with the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. In many important ways -- right down to the argument that Section 5 is unconstitutional because it treats states unequally -- the conflict has never really gone away.*

Now, 50 years on, many other commentators and scholars are weighing in about the continued significance of the act and wondering if the right to vote is now in jeopardy as it seldom has been since the mid-1960s. (See here, here, and here.)  It is certainly a fitting moment to reflect on the law and its meaning and relevance for the US today. More on the event: 

Northumbria University are gathering together a range of elite scholars whose work probes the impact of the celebrated civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, and the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act by the US Congress. The symposium will feature new assessments of the Selma campaign, the broader struggle for Voting and Citizenship Rights, and the subsequent transformations of southern and US politics. It will bring together scholars in the United States and United Kingdom from multiple disciplines and will spur new international collaborations that will provide original and exciting contributions to African-American and American history.

The conference will begin at 9am on Wednesday, 8 April and the symposium will conclude on Thursday, 9 April with a plenary lecture from the internationally-renowned journalist Gary Younge.

This event both closes the Selma symposium and opens the 60th anniversary conference of the British Association for American Studies (BAAS), which is also being hosted by Northumbria University. For more information about the BAAS Conference or to book your place, please click here.

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