The New York Times Magazine published a letter to the editor from an unlikely source — President Barack Obama — who was responding to an Aug. 2 story about recent efforts to dismantle the protections of the Voting Rights Act
The president remarked on the efforts of "unsung American heroes"
like Rosanell Eaton, a 94-year-old North Carolina woman who earned the right to vote in 1939, at age 18, after surprising white voter registration officials tried to disqualify her by requiring Eaton to recite the preamble to the Constitution, which she did.
The legislation, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, was drafted to overcome unfair requirements by states and municipalities that prevented blacks from exercising their right to vote by imposing things like arbitrary literacy tests.
"The impact (of the legislation) was immediate, and profound — the percentage of African-Americans registered to vote skyrocketed in the years after the Voting Rights Act was passed," according to Obama, who notes in his letter that "from the moment the ink was dry on the Voting Rights Act, there has been a concentrated effort to undermine this historic law and turn back the clock on its progress."
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision
that previously required nine states, mostly in the South, to obtain advance federal approval to change their election laws.
"I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality," Obama wrote. "Their efforts made our country a better place. It is now up to us to continue those efforts.
"Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislatures must make it easier — not harder — for more Americans to have their voices heard. Above all, we must exercise our right as citizens to vote, for the truth is that too often we disenfranchise ourselves."
Eaton, Obama summarized, "still believes that We the People have the awesome power to make our union more perfect. And if we join her, we, too, can reaffirm the fundamental truth of the words Rosanell recited."
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