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Teaching Guide: Exploring the Voting Rights Act of 1965

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Voting Rights Act of 1965, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Examine the Fifteenth Amendment and the letter from Senator Borah. Explain the historical context of the Amendment. What is Senator Borah’s perspective on the Amendment? How does his perspective demonstrate the limits of legislation in eliminating racism?
  2. What obstacles to African American enfranchisement are demonstrated in the political cartoon, poll-tax petition, and citizenship test? How did “grandfather clauses” provide access for poor white southerners? How and why might the citizenship test be an unreasonable voting requirement?
  3. Create a list of the goals spelled out in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  4. What is the significance of the gathering of witnesses shown in the photograph of the signing of the Voting Rights Act?
  5. Martin Luther King, Jr. is present in the photograph of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. What further concerns does King express in the television news clip? What issues are difficult for the legislation to address?
  6. In the television news broadcast from March 1965, Georgia state officials offer multiple objections to the proposed Voting Rights Act. Create a list describing these objections.
  7. The 1975 report and 1993 congressional hearings address the progression or regression of voting rights, ten and twenty-nine years after the Voting Rights Act. Create a chart of what difficulties remained at these times. In particular, focus on the impact of gerrymandering within states.
  8. Examine the 2006 Act to Amend the Voting Rights Act. What reasons are given for the necessity of an amendment? During the 2014 US Senate hearing, what does Dr. Johnson say about damage done by Shelby v. Holder to the voting rights of minority groups?

Classroom activities

After reading, reflecting, and working through the discussion questions, ask students to create lists of the remaining challenges and obstacles to full enfranchisement of people of color, particularly African Americans. Students can then brainstorm possible solutions to these challenges, both legislative and non-legislative, but especially the latter. In groups, ask students to prepare a policy proposal to a local organization or government body explaining and recommending one of these solutions.

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