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The Elusiveness of Progress: Voting Rights in America, on display now at Kilmer Library

March 4, 2016

President Obama delivering his speech on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2015.

The Elusiveness of Progress: Voting Rights in America is on display at Kilmer Library, Rutgers University–New Brunswick, now through the end of August. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Due in large part to the publicity and political pressure resulting from the famous marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965.  After its signing, instances of voter discrimination drastically declined, and minority voter turnout and registration both steadily rose.  In recent years, however, the Act—which was once the bedrock of social reform in America—has been undermined to suppress the votes of citizens all across the country.

During this time, movements to pass stricter photo ID laws, hinder early voting and same-day voting, and prohibit voting outside one's home precinct have gained a great deal of political favor.   While these measures are not inherently discriminatory, they disproportionately and unfairly affect minorities, as literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses did before them.

The purpose of The Elusiveness of Progress is to trace the legacy of the Voting Rights Act and detail its effectiveness from inception to the present. Documents included in the display are a literacy test from 1964, photos of the Selma to Montgomery marches, a photo of President Johnson signing the Act into law, charts and graphs from the American Civil Liberties Union related to the current impact of voting rights setbacks on minority voters, and a photograph of President Obama delivering his speech on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2015.

“It is important to know the evolution of the Voting Rights Act, not only to understand our nation's checkered past but also to grasp the covert manner in which one of our most progressive bills is being subverted,” said Paul Kibala, Kilmer Library reference assistant and curator of the display.

The exhibit seeks to inform viewers of the shifting nature of the Act with the hope that they will explore and research it further on their own. To aid in this research process, a research guide on Voting Rights  has been added to the collection of Rutgers LibGuides.  The resources in this guide provide a more comprehensive look at the Act through related books, scholarly articles, audiovisual content, and links to the websites of relevant organizations.

For more information about this exhibit, please contact Paul Kibala or Triveni Kuchi, social sciences/instructional services librarian.