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A look at MLK’s commitment to voter rights as voting legislation stalls in Congress

“Dr. King discovered the fact that we were being dehumanized and discriminated against in terms of voter rights,” said Dr. Charles Steele of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 9:00 AM EST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - In one of the most iconic speeches in our nation’s history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for civil and economic equality for Black Americans in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

King’s activism would make way for a pivotal move toward freedom at the ballot box through his work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“Dr. King discovered the fact that we were being dehumanized and discriminated against in terms of voter rights,” said Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., the SCLC’s current President and CEO. “That was the basis of all rights.”

King’s advocacy led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Nearly 60 years later, the fight for voter equality continues, but there’s disagreement on how to go about it.

In 2021, 19 states passed a record 34 new voting laws.

Opponents say they limit access to voting.

“It’s really a kind of a perilous moment for democracy when you think that many states could have so many laws on the books now designed to thwart upcoming elections and make it harder for people of color to vote,” said Michael Sozan of the Center for American Progress, who is the liberal think tank’s leading expert on voting rights.

But proponents of these state laws believe they expand access and protect people’s vote.

In Congress, there are two bills that seek to end discrimination at the polls. Both pieces of legislation stalled in the Senate.

The main holdup is many Republicans believe the bills are government overreach and elections should be run at the state level.

“I don’t think that there is an argument that can be made for the federal government taking over elections,” said Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.). “That’s wrong.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) hoped for movement on the bills by Martin Luther King Day, but the Senate is adjourned until Tuesday.

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