The Voting Rights Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1965. In 1957 and 1960 Congress had passed laws to protect the rights of black voters, and the Twenty-Fourth Amendment (1964) banned the use of poll taxes in federal elections. Nevertheless, in the presidential elections of 1964, blacks continued to have difficulty registering to vote in many areas. Voter registration drives met with bitter, and sometimes violent, opposition. In March 1965 Martin Luther King, Jr., led a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to dramatize the voting issue. Immediately after the march, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a voting rights bill to Congress, and it was quickly passed.


The Voting Rights Act authorized the U.S. attorney general to send federal examiners to register black voters under certain circumstances. It also suspended all literacy tests in states in which less than 50% of the voting-age population had been registered or had voted in the 1964 election. The law had an immediate impact. By the end of 1965 a quarter of a million new black voters had been registered, one third by federal examiners. The Voting Rights Act was readopted and strengthened in 1970, 1975, and 1982.