WASHINGTON, D.C. — During a White House ceremony honoring civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks on December 1, 2005, President Bush pulled a shock and awe on black leaders by calling on Congress to renew the provisions of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that are set to expire.
The announcement came as a surprise for those gathered Thursday to witness Bush sign into law a bill directing that a statue of Parks go up in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Parks, who died Oct. 24 at 92, will be the first black woman represented in Statuary Hall, where many states have statues honoring notable people in their history.
Bush said, “Fifty years ago an African American woman named Rosa Parks helped set in motion a national movement for equality and freedom when she refused a bus driver’s order to give her seat to a white man. The bill I’m about to sign calls for a statue of Rosa Parks to be placed in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.”
“By placing her statue in the heart of the nation’s Capitol, we commemorate her work for a more perfect union, and we commit ourselves to continue to struggle for justice for every American.”
“Eventually the civil rights movement would succeed in persuading Congress to pass more sweeping legislation that dealt with voting rights and discrimination in public places, and school segregation,” said the president. “And the United States Congress should renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Blindsided by the good news, those present at the ceremony held on the 50th anniversary of Parks’ bus stand in Montgomery – including Parks’ family members and politicians – broke out in wild applause and stood to their feet to give Bush a standing ovation.
“That was kind of a double victory for civil rights today,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson, who gave props to Bush for his commitment to extend the Voting Rights Act. He called Bush’s move “a significant breakthrough” since he had previously declined even in private to support the renewal.
• The provisions that expire, in 2007, include one requiring states with a history of racial discrimination — mostly in the South — to get federal approval to change their voting laws or district lines and another requiring election officials to provide voting material in the native language of immigrant voters who don’t speak English.
• The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1870, guarantees voting rights for minorities. But the 1965 law clarified and extended those rights. It was pushed through by President Lyndon B. Johnson in response to states’ requirements that black voters pass literacy and other tests.
This article was originally printed on www.eurweb.com.
Anir Senyah made contributions to this story.