President Lyndon Johnson, March 15 1965 speech Special Message to the Congress, The American Promise:
THE RIGHT TO VOTE
Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish, it must be rooted in democracy. The most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country, in large measure, is the history of the expansion of that right to all of our people.
Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.
Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.
Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on the application.
And if he manages to fill out an application he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of State law. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write.
For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin.
Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books-and I have helped to put three of them there–can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it.
In such a case our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath.
GUARANTEEING THE RIGHT TO VOTE
Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote.
The broad principles of that bill will be in the hands of the Democratic and Republican leaders tomorrow. After they have reviewed it, it will come here formally as a bill. I am grateful for this opportunity to come here tonight at the invitation of the leadership to reason with my friends, to give them my views, and to visit with my former colleagues.
I have had prepared a more comprehensive analysis of the legislation which I had intended to transmit to the clerk tomorrow but which I will submit to the clerks tonight. But I want to really discuss with you now briefly the main proposals of this legislation,
This bill will strike down restrictions to voting in all elections–Federal, State, and local–which have been used to deny Negroes the right to vote.
This bill will establish a simple, uniform standard which cannot be used, however ingenious the effort, to flout our Constitution.
It will provide for citizens to be registered by officials of the United States Government if the State officials refuse to register them.
It will eliminate tedious, unnecessary lawsuits which delay the right to vote.
Finally, this legislation will ensure that properly registered individuals are not prohibited from voting.
I will welcome the suggestions from all of the Members of Congress–I have no doubt that I will get some–on ways and means to strengthen this law and to make it effective. But experience has plainly shown that this is the only path to carry out the command of the Constitution.
To those who seek to avoid action by their National Government in their own communities; who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections, the answer is simple:
Open your polling places to all your people.
Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin.
Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land.
FOR NOW YOU’RE WITHIN THE NORMS