Sussex group plans rally for 50th anniversary of Voting Rights Act

GEORGETOWN — Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

In remembrance of the historical landmark, Sussex Unity will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the law on The Circle in Georgetown at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Sussex Unity describes itself as a collation of civic activists, community leaders and faith leaders joining with residents of underserved communities in Sussex County to bring a positive change.

The event will include speaker Fayetta Blake, the chairwoman of Sussex Unity, and others. They will offer their perspective on the law.

The Booker Street Church Choir will perform, as well.

“We want to remind everyone that everyone has a voice,” said Janet Orlando, co-chair of Sussex Unity. “No one should be turned away. Everyone should be able to exercise their right to vote.”

Although the 15th Amendment, was approved in 1870 granting African-Americans the right to vote, there were literacy tests, poll taxes and other discriminatory requirements that made it difficult for eligible citizens to register to vote.

It wasn’t until 1965 when the Civil Rights Movement, the Selma to Montgomery marches and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership demanded the enactment of the Voting Rights Act that African-Americans living in the South were able to register to vote and participate in the democratic process.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff, who is the George Washington Distinguished Professor of history and political science at Delaware State University, will serve as the keynote speaker during the event.

Dr. Hoff said Wednesday the legislation was an important milestone.

“Anything that gets to 50 deserves recognition,” Dr. Hoff said. “Before the act people of color were greatly discriminated against and targeted when they went out to vote. It’s a milestone because it gave people the right to vote.”

In 2013, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to obtain federal permission before changing voting procedures.

The Shelby v. Holder decision declared that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, effectively eliminating Section 5 of the act.

Several of the mostly Southern states that were held to those restrictions have made changes to their voting practices, including limiting early voting and passing voter ID laws.

“When the act was passed it took away barriers for people who wanted to vote,” Ms. Orlando said.

“Now there are many things that are trying to dismantle the act. We want to remain in the public’s eye as much as we can with this law.

“We don’t want anything changed and it’s very important for everyone to fight to keep it that way,” Ms. Orlando added.

Dr. Hoff said the Voting Rights Act will continue to be important for many years to come.

“The recent cases regarding the justice system with African-Americans is a reason why the act is important,” he said.

“One way to change the legislative is to vote.”

Only a limited number of chairs can be provided so people are advised to bring a lawn chair if they wish to be seated.

People are also urged to arrive early for the best seating locations.

In case of bad weather, the rally will be moved inside to Sussex County Council chambers.

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