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(1965) Lyndon B. Johnson, "The Voting Rights Act"

In early March 1965 much of the nations attention was focused on civil rights marches in and around Selma, Alabama. Activists led by Dr. Martin Luther King used these demonstrations to urge the federal government to act to end the denial of voting rights to tens of thousands of African Americans in Alabama and across the South. When police violence resulted in the death of a demonstrator, Rev. James J. Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Boston, President Lyndon Johnson in response provided federal protection for the marchers and proposed legislation that would become the Voting Rights Act. On March 15, Johnson gave a nationally televised speech on the recent demonstrations and his proposed legislation. The speech, made famous by his use of the phrase we shall overcome which seemed to show his embrace of the cause of the Selma demonstrators, appears below.

I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of Democracy. I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.

At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in mans unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. There, long suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many of them were brutally assaulted. One good man--a man of God--was killed.

There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith in our Democracy in what is happening here tonight. For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great government--the government of the greatest nation on earth. Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country--to right wrong, to