PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Ten students and three faculty members from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville recently attended the “Voting Rights and the Struggle for Democracy: the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965” event at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minn.
Dr. Rosalyn Broussard, professor of political science and director of ethnic studies at UW-Platteville; Dr. Shan Sappleton, assistant professor of political science at UW-Platteville; and Dr. Adrienne Jones, university relations specialist and lecturer of political science at UW-Platteville, led the trip.
UW-Platteville students who attended the conference included Gregory Atnip, Tanner Gille, Taylor Hauser, Aaron Kelsey, Megan Kubatzke, Rashad Nelson, Samantha Hamer, Sakara Wages, Colton Hackett and Nicholas Harnish. The students were from a wide variety of disciplines.
The Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on Aug. 6, 1965, was designed to help overcome legal barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
The conference aimed to put the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in proper historical context and celebrate the courageous people who made it possible through a vigorous public discussion.
“It is hard to believe that 50 years have passed since the signing of the Voting Rights Act,” said Broussard. “As a country, we have made tremendous progress. In 43 years, this country went from foreclosing on voting rights for blacks to electing a black president, which I never thought I would see in my lifetime. However, even with the election of President Obama, the fight to protect voting as a constitutional right still persists. A number of states have passed – and the Supreme Court has upheld – voter identification laws, including Wisconsin, even though the evidence does not support the theory of widespread voter’s fraud. There are also states that deny felons who have paid their debt to society the right to vote.”
“This conference was a great opportunity for students,” Broussard said. “Often, when young people think about 50 years in the past, it is not easy to relate the issue to their lives. The speakers did a wonderful job in relating why the Voting Rights Act is relevant today. Also the students had the chance to hear from, and interact with, individuals who were part of the Civil Rights Movement, when they were about their age. From my conversations with the students, I would argue that two of the most important things they came away with were: first, democracy demands involvement; it is not a passive sport. And second, change doesn’t happen overnight. It took years for black people as well as women to get the right to vote, but they never gave up, even while facing bodily harm and death.”
“The conference was a great opportunity to learn about the voting rights movement from people who were involved,” said Jones. “It gave my students the opportunity to see how the history and concepts we learned in class look in action and how they are relevant today.”
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 conference was an amazing experience,” said Kelsey. “The diverse panel provided great discussion that sparked reflection on the struggle it took to get where we are in voters’ rights and the challenges yet to come.”
“The conference opened my eyes to the problems that our nation still faces in achieving truly full equality, especially with regard to economic conditions present in our economic structure,” said Gille.
Keynote speakers included former Vice President Walter Mondale, United States Representative Keith Ellison and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Panels included “How the Vote was Won and Lost – Historical Context for the Voting Rights Act of 1965;” a screening of excerpts from the documentary “Eyes on the Prize;” “Winning the Right to Vote – The Struggle from Selma to Washington and Beyond;” and “The Struggle Continues – Voting Rights from 1965 to the Present.”
Panel speakers included Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, civil rights leader and author; Charles Fager, activist and scholar; as well as nine other speakers from the University of Oregon, Eugene, Ore.; University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; Northeastern University in Boston, Mass.; University of Minnesota; University of Minnesota Law School, Minneapolis; Metro State University, St. Paul, Minn.; and FairVote Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Panelists discussed a variety of topics, including the Civil Rights Movement; Civil Rights Act of 1964; Voting Rights Act of 1965; electoral rights during the Civil Rights era; movement politics; politics of voting rights in the first reconstruction; women's suffrage movement; intersections with race and class; the struggle in Selma, Ala.; felony disenfranchisement as a voting rights issue; and more.
The conference was sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Cowles Endowment for the Study of Public Service, College of Liberal Arts, Department of Political Science, Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice, Department of Sociology and Department of African American and African Studies.
As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. Providing UW-Platteville students with an opportunity to attend the “Voting Rights and the Struggle for Democracy” conference aligns with three of the priorities, including providing an outstanding education, fostering a community of achievement and respect and enriching the tri-state region.
Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org