The Substance of Things Hoped for: Faith, Social Action & Passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Substance of Things Hoped For: Faith, Social Action & Passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 46 Cum. L. Rev. 423 (2016)
40 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2016 Last revised: 10 Jul 2016
Date Written: June 30, 2015
In the spring of 2015, Paramount Motion Pictures released Selma, a movie based on the historical occurrences that led to the infamous day in American history known as “Bloody Sunday,” and President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the subsequently passed Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“the Act”). Selma popularized, for a new generation, the clergy-led struggle for an egalitarian society, especially in the Jim Crown Deep South, where legislation was needed to ensure well-documented patterns of invidious discrimination in the polling place would end. This Article, written in the same vein as Selma, shows how faith and faith-based leaders worked through life-threatening and often life-ending struggles, to ensure the Fifteenth Amendment guarantee would no longer be usurped by the institution of racism, and Blacks would have the ability to elect candidates of their own choosing.
With the biblically-based “suffering servant” theology detailed by the messianic writers in Isaiah 53 as an undergirding theme, this interdisciplinary Article brings together law, history, and theology to explore the Judeo-Christian concept of suffering being redemptive — a concept the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made extremely popular during the Civil Rights Movement. Further, as its central thesis, this Article agues, in paraphrasing the writer of Hebrews, that faith brings to fruition things that might otherwise seem impossible, when faith is the precedent to social action. Indeed, just as prior to the faith-motivated and dissident demonstrations that resulted in Bloody Sunday, the Act seemed like an impossibility. When faith leads to social action, however, otherwise impossible results can include the election of Blacks to local, state, and federal office, with the most significant being the election and reelection of Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States of America.
In supporting the central thesis that faith-based actions led to passage of the Act, this Article is divided into five parts. Part I serves as an introduction, providing an overview of sociopolitical conditions that necessitated the Act’s enactment. Part II builds upon Part I by overviewing the evolution of the Act’s Sections 2 and 5, arguably its most important parts, while also detailing why the two sections were and remain very important. Part III explores how a theology of civil disobedience, motivated by faith and the Judeo-Christian concept of suffering being redemptive, shaped a climate for the Freedom Rides and lunch counter sit-ins of 1961, events that served as a natural preference to Bloody Sunday in 1965, a watershed sociopolitical occurrence that forced President Johnson’s Great Society Initiative to include voting rights along with education reform and poverty eradication. By setting a theological foundation of where faith and social action meet, Part III details some of the chronological events that led to the Act becoming law.
The Article’s Part IV looks at the political reality of how the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder undermines and essentially guts the Act’s practical reach, while somehow leaving it constitutionality intact, with Part V looking at the Act’s future and limited practical application, serving as this Article’s conclusion. Unless those in the post-modern era replicate the actions of the Movement’s faith leaders and demand that the Republican-controlled Congress act in response to the Court’s decision in Shelby County and enact a new and improved Act, its future is arguably very bleak.
Keywords: Voting Rights, Martin L. King, Suffering Servant Theology, Selma
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