When the Fifteenth Amendment of 1870 granted African Americans the right to vote, it seemed as if a new era of political equality was at hand. Before long, however, white segregationists across the South counterattacked, driving their black countrymen from the polls through a combination of sheer terror and insidious devices such as complex literacy tests and expensive poll taxes. Most African Americans would remain voiceless for nearly a century more, citizens in name only until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act secured their access to the ballot.
In Bending Toward Justice, celebrated historian Gary May describes how black voters overcame centuries of bigotry to secure and preserve one of their most important rights as American citizens. The struggle that culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act was long and torturous, and only succeeded because of the courageous work of local freedom fighters and national civil rights leaders—as well as, ironically, the opposition of Southern segregationists and law enforcement officials, who won public sympathy for the voting rights movement by brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators. But while the Voting Rights Act represented an unqualified victory over such forces of hate, May explains that its achievements remain in jeopardy. Many argue that the 2008 election of President Barack Obama rendered the act obsolete, yet recent years have seen renewed efforts to curb voting rights and deny minorities the act's hard-won protections. Legal challenges to key sections of the act may soon lead the Supreme Court to declare those protections unconstitutional.
A vivid, fast-paced history of this landmark piece of civil rights legislation, Bending Toward Justice offers a dramatic, timely account of the struggle that finally won African Americans the ballot—although, as May shows, the fight for voting rights is by no means over.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bending Toward Justice is a superb book. It fully, yet succinctly, recalls the mighty efforts by so many to make the Fifteenth Amendment a reality. The successful Congressional fight in Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act was complex, but here is clearly explained. Author Gary May does a fine job of discussing renewals of the Voting Rights Act, which coincided with increasing political participation and office holding by African Americans. He tells of recent efforts to limit voter registration and voting--what I call "equal opportunity Jim Crow laws". And with the Supreme Court now (late May, 2013) on the verge of possibly overturning key parts of the law, Gary May reminds us that the "history [of disfranchisement] may well repeat itself."
Gary May's authoritative history of the Voting Rights Act is an absorbing page-turner, full of little known stories. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg quoted the May's book in the dissent to the 5-4 ruling, crippling the Voting Rights Act, that was just decided (in June, 2013) by the Supreme Court. If you've watched Eyes on the Prize or Mississippi Burning, you still don't know the real stories of change and hope that came after passage of the Act, like how Jim Clark, the notorious sheriff of Jefferson County, whose forces brutally assaulted black and white activists marching for voting rights, turned around and invited black voters for barbecue and beer once black voters became a power in his district.
The fight for voting rights is becoming, once again, a major theme in US politics. For anyone who wants to understand what's at stake -- and why there's reason for both concern and hope -- or how a previous generation transformed America through the power of the vote -- this is...
I just finished Gary May's book and it is a true work of art. My heart breaks at the recent developments in the Supreme Court, which May scarily predicts in his book. There are so many amazing characters in this story of struggle, bravery and courage. I had never heard of Julia Wilder and Maggie Bozeman, nor of the the "Subversive Six." Their stories are unbelievable. May's book is pivotal for the fight to honor the Voting Rights Act and has never been more important than right now. It is a must-read, casting light on our crucial history and paving the way for a better future. May's book recounts "the struggle of a lifetime" which can never be forgotten.
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