The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy
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May (History/Univ. of Delaware; The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo, 2011, etc.) explores the agitation for, and the passage and continuing significance of, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In a meticulous, impassioned narrative, the author describes how determined activists in Selma, Ala., succeeded in mobilizing their community and many others in the Deep South to demand an end to the devious, cynical and violent practices that had excluded blacks from the voter rolls since the end of Reconstruction. Their campaign culminated in the horrific violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, an atrocity that galvanized the nation and forced a reluctant Lyndon Johnson to make passage of a muscular voting rights act an urgent priority. May delivers a fascinating account of the legislative maneuvering required to corral enough Republican votes to shut down the inevitable filibuster by southern Democrats and bring about final passage. After this point, however, the author’s exposition loses its way. He needlessly follows Martin Luther King for the remainder of his life, then delves into a tedious summary of the various renewals and amendments to the act as it evolved from controversial enactment to legislative sacred cow. So successful has it been in enabling the registration and participation of hundreds of thousands of minority voters that controversies surrounding its application and even relevance in an era with a black president of the United States have become increasingly subtle and complex. May reviews a number of difficult issues at the core of the act's present significance, including the drawing of appropriate electoral district boundaries, the intent and effect of voter-identification laws, and the continuing legitimacy of pre-clearance provisions applicable only in certain jurisdictions guilty of discrimination half a century ago, but they deserve more thoughtful treatment than the uncritical acceptance of current liberal dogma that May offers.

Superb history combined with superficial punditry.

Pub Date: April 9th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0465018468
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2013


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