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This month marked the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory practices that prevented Black Americans from exercising their right to vote. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the VRA has been under constant attack since it was passed.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the VRA, which opened the door to a wave of laws aimed at making it more difficult for voters of color and young people to head to the polls.

As the nation gears up for another presidential election contest, and even more efforts to prevent people from voting, President Obama is calling on Congress to restore landmark bill.

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, President Obama highlighted the work of Rosanell Eaton, the 94-year-old plaintiff suing North Carolina for their restrictive voter laws. Mr. Obama said people like Eaton paved the way for his presidency because they “refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality.”  The president also called on federal and local officials to “make it easier — not harder — for more Americans to have their voices heard.”

Read an excerpt of the President’s impassioned letter below:

‘‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union. …’’ It’s a cruel irony that the words that set our democracy in motion were used as part of the so-called literacy test designed to deny Rosanell and so many other African-Americans the right to vote. Yet more than 70 years ago, as she defiantly delivered the Preamble to our Constitution, Rosanell also reaffirmed its fundamental truth. What makes our country great is not that we are perfect, but that with time, courage and effort, we can become more perfect. What makes America special is our capacity to change.

Rosanell Eaton

Rosanell Eaton protesting North Carolina’s voter ID laws.

Nearly three decades after Rosanell testified to her unbroken faith in this country, that faith was vindicated. The Voting Rights Act put an end to literacy tests and other forms of discrimination, helping to close the gap between our promise that all of us are created equal and our long history of denying some of us the right to vote. The impact was immediate, and profound — the percentage of African-Americans registered to vote skyrocketed in the years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.

But as Rutenberg chronicles, from the moment the ink was dry on the Voting Rights Act, there has been a concentrated effort to undermine this historic law and turn back the clock on its progress. His article puts the recent push to restrict Americans’ voting rights in its proper context. These efforts are not a sign that we have moved past the shameful history that led to the Voting Rights Act. Too often, they are rooted in that history. They remind us that progress does not come easy, but that it must be vigorously defended and built upon for ourselves and future generations.

I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place. It is now up to us to continue those efforts. Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislatures must make it easier — not harder — for more Americans to have their voices heard. Above all, we must exercise our right as citizens to vote, for the truth is that too often we disenfranchise ourselves.

Read President Obama’s entire letter on the New York Times website

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