Voting Rights Act of 1965

Written By North Carolina History Project

The United States Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA 65) to strengthen the Civil Rights acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964 and eliminate voter discrimination at the state and local levels.  VRA 65 gave the U.S. Attorney General the power to appoint election supervisors for states and districts that still used literacy tests at the polls or had a voter turnout of less than fifty-percent of registered voters in the 1964 election.  As a result, African American voter registration increased, and African Americans became a political force once again throughout the South.

Two years after the Wilmington Race Riot, the North Carolina General Assembly passed in 1900 a constitutional amendment restricting the black vote.  Literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes were used to limit the number of black votes.  The U.S. Supreme Court declared the grandfather clause unconstitutional in 1915 and the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated poll taxes in 1920.  Literacy tests, however, were still used in North Carolina.  Forty North Carolina counties came under the provisions of VRA 65.   

The passage of the bill increased African American voting participation and made it possible for African Americans to be elected once again to political office.  In 1948, only fifteen percent of the black population was registered, and by 1962 it had risen slowly to thirty-six percent.  The percentage increased to fifty percent one year after the passage of VRA 65.  In the 1966 election, approximately 281,000 blacks voted.  With this revived political power, North Carolina blacks helped elect Henry E. Frye (Guilford County) to the state House in 1968, Frederick Douglass Alexander (Mecklenburg County) to the state Senate in 1974, and John W. Winters, Sr. (Wake County) to the state Senate in 1974.  (Henry Frye later became a state Supreme Court justice, but had been denied suffrage in 1956 because he forgot the names of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.)

The Voting Rights Act was renewed in 1970, 1975, and 1982.