Black History Month: Recommitting to a "Triumph for Freedom"

February 23, 2015
Dear Friends,

Every February we come together to honor the countless achievements of the African American community throughout our nation’s history by celebrating Black History Month. With our nation’s first African American president serving his second term in office, President Obama follows a long line of African American heroes who broke the barriers of inequality. And he is part of a new generation of inspired crusaders for progress in the 21st century.

In our congressional district, IBM’s Almaden Research Lab was directed by African American computer scientist Mark Dean, one of the original geniuses behind the IBM personal computer. In San Francisco, Kimberly Bryant founded the website BlackGirlsCode, with the mission of teaching young African American girls highly demanding computer skills in order to foster an interest in technology.

Black History Month serves as a special opportunity to recognize these contributions and so many others. It’s also a time to recommit ourselves to the promise of equality and opportunity for all Americans. The 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches is next month, and while we recognize the progress made in our country, we also acknowledge that our fight for equality endures.

Fifty years ago, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and our country made incredible strides to eliminate voter suppression and discrimination. Fifty years later, this progress is being eroded.

The 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby v. Holder revoked a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required nine states with a history of discrimination to clear any changes to their voting laws with the Department of Justice. Thirty-one states now have voter ID requirements, yet an estimated 21 million Americans do not have government-issued identification. Voting is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, and any attempts to limit this right on a discriminatory basis must be struck down.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wisely stated in her dissent of the Court's decision that to strike down the Voting Rights Act “when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes [to election laws] is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.” With efforts across the country to restrict the ability of individuals to register and vote, it’s clear that we still need the “umbrella” protection that the Voting Rights Act has provided for 50 years.

I have co-sponsored legislation to restore the critical protections in the Voting Rights Act which were struck down by the Supreme Court in the Shelby case. This legislation will ensure that states and localities that have a recent history of voting rights violations will be subject to the same strong oversight that has been so successful since 1965.

On the day he signed the Voting Rights Act, President Lyndon Johnson stated: “Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield.” Congress has a similar bipartisan opportunity to ensure that the all-important protections of the Voting Rights Act remain in place.

During Black History Month 2015, let’s join together in celebration of the achievements of African Americans in our country. And let’s raise our voices and be heard to ensure that the “triumph for freedom” is not lost.

Most gratefully,

Anna G. Eshoo