Gore: Freedom of the ballot box is the very essence of democracy

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

In 1965, Senator Albert Gore and his colleagues in Congress considered legislation aimed at dismantling the state and local barriers that prevented black Americans from fully exercising their right to vote granted by the 15th Amendment. Leading up to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in August, Gore received hundreds of letters from Tennesseans about voting rights, including many that discussed the protest marches in Selma, Alabama. Gore responded to these letters with the following:

I believe the right of qualified citizens freely to exercise the franchise is clearly guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Nevertheless, there are areas, as we have seen, where certain citizens have been and are being systematically denied the right to vote. This cannot be tolerated. Freedom of the ballot box is the very essence of democracy.

Gore’s entire response can be read below, with a transcription available on our website:

voting rights-gore043

As expected, Tennesseans had various reactions to the Voting Rights Act and the marches for voter registration happening in Alabama. Some urged Senator Gore to vote against the bill and “come to the aid” of Alabama’s segregationist Governor George Wallace, who used brutal tactics against Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists seeking an end to voter suppression. Below are some examples of these letters, with transcriptions available on our website(Click each image to view larger)

For others, the violence Governor Wallace used against the protest marchers demonstrated the immense need for legislation protecting voting rights, and these constituents pleaded with Gore to support the bill. Below are some examples of letters in support of the Voting Rights Act, with transcriptions available on our website. (Click each image to view larger)

In recent years, people of color and other marginalized communities have seen an increase in voting restrictions that undermine the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Brennan Center for Justice is one of several organizations fighting voter suppression. You can learn more about this civil rights issue on their website, which features informative articles, maps, and guides on taking action: https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/restricting-vote.

To research the Papers of Senator Albert Gore contact me at Sarah.Calise@mtsu.edu, or call 615-898-2632.

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