Oliver Willis

Voting Rights Are Civil Rights, Exposing Conservative Ignorance

MLK & The Selma-Montgomery March

In response to the terrorist attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, I took note of the fact that many of the politicians who expressed sympathy for the attack also are part of the movement refusing to re-authorize provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Like most blunt things I say about conservatives, they reacted like stuck pigs.

What, they asked, does the racist slaying of black churchgoers in the American south have to do with voting rights?


The modern civil rights movement, which was opposed by conservatives in both the Democratic and Republican parties, came about in large part because black Americans in the American south were being denied the right to vote. Blacks were systematically excluded from the ballot box, which resulted in local, state, and national officials who had no interest in furthering the equal rights of American citizens.

The seminal piece of legislation that is associated with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is a document whose lead article is all about the right to vote. It reads:

To enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.

The struggle for equal voting rights was the entire point of the Selma to Montgomery march, dramatized in the movie Selma*.

As part of the Supreme Court decision that hobbled portions of the Voting Rights Act, Shelby County v. Holder, Justice John Roberts made the laughable claim that we no longer need some of these vital voting protections in place.

Denial of the right to vote was central to the subjugation of black Americans under white rule in the south. The right to vote is key to racial and gender equality in our nation. It is part of the never-ending struggle for equality under the law.


It’s also basic American civics, and conservatives show their ignorance when they lash out at those who make this uncontroversial and historic connection.

* Correction: I got the movie name criss-crossed with the song “Glory” from the same movie