ByMark Strassmann June 25, 2013 7:32 PM
(CBS News) PHILADELPHIA, Miss. – The Voting Rights Act grew out of a decisive moment of the civil rights movement.
The Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965 were protests of poll taxes and literacy tests that prevented minorities from voting. Marchers led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and others were repelled by police, but they persevered. Months later, President Lyndon Johnson invited King to the Voting Rights Act’s signing ceremony.
Our research department tells us that in 1965, there were no minority senators and no minority congressmen from the areas covered by the act. Today, there is one senator and 17 congressmen.
As Chief Justice Roberts said in his opinion, the country has changed, but a question asked by many today is — how much?
The three civil rights workers murdered by the KKK in Mississippi in 1964. / CBS News
Philadelphia, Miss., has struggled with infamy since the summer of 1964. Three civil rights workers, who were registering blacks to vote, were murdered by the local Ku Klux Klan.
Jim Prince and LeRoy Clemons are part of the new South, and formed a multiracial coalition in 2004.
Prince runs the local newspaper. Clemons heads the county’s NAACP. They have formed a multi-racial coalition in Philadelphia to help heal the city’s wounds.
“My predecessors would have sat here and not trusted Jim at all,” Clemons, who is black, said of Jim, who is white.
“Once we got to know each other and understand where the other was coming from. We made a lot more progress,” said Prince.
Jim Prince (right) and LeRoy Clemons (left) / CBS News
Clemons said that trust may not be as big as an issue as it was in the 60s and 70s, but power oftentimes gets in the way of progress.
“I think it’s more about the people who are still in power, that want to stay in power,” he said. “You loo at all these new voter suppression things — voter I.D. laws . You see it happening all over the country.”
African-Americans make up 35 percent of Mississippi voters, the highest percentage in the country. Twenty-nine percent of its state legislature is African-American — that is also the highest in the country.
“There has been incredible change, basic, drastic change, rather than federal mandates,” Prince said. “It’s going to be getting to know one another and regaining and initiating trust.”
Clemons said he doesn’t think the U.S. has completely rid of discrimination, however.
“There are still people in positions of power and authority in Mississippi and in the South who are not ready to turn over control or share power with the minorities right now.
The weight of history on this community may be lighter, but it has not fully lifted.