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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Andrew Young, January 31, 1974. Interview A-0080. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in advancing civil rights

Young explains why he believes the Voting Rights Act of 1965, rather than the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was a bigger catalyst for changing racial relations. (Young at first states that the Voting Rights Act passed in 1967, but later mentions the correct date). According to Young, the Voting Rights Act was what truly changed power relationships and gave African Americans actual access to political power. As a result, real changes that had been brewing for decades and escalating in the 1950s and early 1960s finally came to fruition.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Andrew Young, January 31, 1974. Interview A-0080. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So then what is the period where it has changed in that last twenty-five years? The past ten years?
1967. I would say the Voting Rights Act was it, more than anything. I mean, the bus boycott, you'd have to say was an awakening of the black community. And it built up a series of social changes that led right up to the passage . . . the legalization of those social changes in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But that '64 Civil Rights Act, while it changed traditions and customs, didn't do anything to challenge the power relationships in the South. And in a sense it was far less consequential than the passage of the '65 act, which began to give blacks access to political power.
What made it move so fast? When you think back to 1967, that's seven years, six or seven years ago.
Well, it was ready, you see. What you had is, you had a steady buildup of a black middle class. I go all the way back to the founding of these predominantly black colleges across the South. In Atlanta, you had six of them that were about a hundred years old. You had produced a Nobel Peace Prize winner out of Atlanta, before you produced a mayor or a congressman. I mean, the political lid was on, but the talent was emerging. You produced scholars like W. E. B. DuBois, and John Hope Franklin. And Horace Mann Bond, Julian's father. I mean, the level of intellectual achievement in the South had been constantly rising, and it had expressed itself. I mean, you had a half dozen black millionaires in Atlanta in 1954. And you had a black bank, four black insurance companies, black savings and loans. You had a well-developed community that was denied a political opportunity. And once the law changed with the '65 Civil Rights Act, and the masses of blacks began voting, that leadership just began to express itself politically. And that was, it seems to me, the reason for the tremendous change in such a hurry.