Volunteers assist with voter registration in Americus, Georgia, on August 9, 1965.
Although blacks had long held the legal right to vote, political realities in the South made it difficult for them to register. Racists had discouraged black registration through threats of violence or unfair testing.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave the federal government authority over the registration process in six southern states and some counties in other states. After 1965, black voter registration rose significantly in the South. In Mississippi, blacks were 7 percent of registered voters in 1965, but 70 percent in 1969.
Commenting on preparation of a 2004 exhibit at the Civil Rights Museum on the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, curator Barbara Andrews said: “Somewhere in the process, it became very real to me that a mere 40 years ago -- barely the halfway point of a life expectancy today -- African Americans were protesting and being beaten and killed for this right. It's remarkable.” (© AP Images)