WASHINGTON -- People bled and died seeking to end the discrimination addressed by the Voting Rights Act, and the Supreme Court took the country a step backward to those infamous days Tuesday by invalidating one of the law's key provisions, said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the people who shed his own blood in the struggle.
Lewis was one of the leaders of the legendary 1965 march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where he had his skull fractured when police set on him and 600 other protesters with tear gas, horses and clubs.
"We don't want to go back. We want to go forward," Lewis said at a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday. "The only thing I did, a few short years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge. But others, brothers and sisters of mine and other people in the struggle, gave their very lives."
For Lewis and for Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who entered Congress in 1964, the high court's decision is regressive, especially when coupled with voter suppression measures that have surged in states around the country.
"This case takes us back to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which didn't give African Americans the right the vote," Conyers said. "Then we went into 1869 when the 15th Amendment did give African Americans the right to vote."
Lewis noted that during post-Civil War Reconstruction, Congress briefly included many black representatives, until states began restricting African Americans' voting rights.
"The nation turned a blind eye to legalized segregation and racial discrimination for 100 years," said Lewis, recalling how civil rights activists were beaten and killed in the 1960s.
When the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, the practices that kept black voters from from casting ballots -- from poll taxes to literacy tests -- were invalidated. Some civil rights leaders, among them the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have argued that before the law went into effect, African Americans were not truly free, even with the passage of the Civil Rights Act a year earlier.
Lewis said it is now the obligation of Congress to change the law to counter the Supreme Court's ruling. He also called for a march on Washington in August to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous rally.
"We must do it. We must do it now before a nother national election takes place," Lewis said.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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