The forty years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 have turned this country on its axis. Largely because elected officials suddenly found themselves staring down the loaded barrel of the black ballot.
Those elected officials who maintained their office by preaching racial segregation, were forced to change their tune. The example of Alabama Governor George ?Curly? Wallace is illuminating: Prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, he was often hard at work capitalizing off racial tensions. With the fist shaking fury of William Jennings Bryant, he exclaimed in his 1963 inaugural address, ?Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!? After the passage of the Voting Rights Act, he could be seen fawning all over the black community, evincing evangelical zeal in the crowning of a black beauty Queen.
Wallace changed his tune because his career depended upon it. In a Democracy, politicians derive their legitimacy from the will of the electorate. Giving the black community a voice in that process pushed their collective wants and needs into the mainstream.
Otherwise stated, giving black Americans the right to vote made the government accountable to their needs.
This, in turn, ensured that the decisions to desegregate would be backed by the Federal government?and if need be, the 82nd airborne. As early as 1957, President Eisenhower was forced to send Federal Troops to Arkansas to enforce the desegregation of Little Rock High School. It was the first time since the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction that federal troops had been sent to the South to assist the black community. Subsequently, the Supreme Court solidified the right to vote by forbidding the white primary, grandfather clauses and racial gerrymandering in national, state, or local elections.
The result was an unprecedented access to political power for black America. The number of black elected officials skyrocketed. A wave of black governors took office in Virginia, New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other major cities across the country. Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas followed in his footsteps. Today, every time the president makes a foreign policy decision, he is advised by Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.