Background Essay and Panelist Biographies

Media and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Background Essays


Watch (and/or read a transcript of) a January 17, 2005, segment from The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer featuring a conversation with author Nick Kotz, Roger Wilkins, who served in the Johnson administration, and Jeffrey Brown, on the occasion of both the fortieth anniversary of the year of the Voting Rights Act, and the publication of Kotz’s book Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Laws that Changed America.

Here is the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Section, Introduction to Federal Voting Rights Laws, where one can read the actual Voting Rights Act of 1965 itself and about some of its effects.

Here is a multimedia examination, put together by Alice Anne Stephens and Kent Germany of the University of Virginia, of the critical conversations among President Johnson, his associates, Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama and go-between Buford Ellington, regarding the situation in Selma, at the University of Virginia’s Presidential Recordings Program, Miller Center of Public Affairs (including access to some of the critical telephone conversations themselves).


Panelist Biographies


Haynes Johnson, the son of the late Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter and editor Malcolm Johnson, has distinguished himself as a newspaperman and a political reporter in his own right. Johnson won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting for his coverage of the civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Alabama. He is a 40-year veteran newsman in the nation's capital, first for the Washington Star and still for the Washington Post. He is the Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland. Television viewers know him for his reports on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) programs Washington Week in Review and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Johnson's books on affairs of national interest include: The Bay of Pigs: The Leaders' Story of Brigade 2056, In the Absence of Power: Governing America, Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years, The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point, and The Best of Times: America in the Clinton Years. Johnson earned his bachelor's in journalism at the University of Missouri and holds a master's from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

John Lewis, Congressman from Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, first elected in 1986, has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls "The Beloved Community" in America.  During the height of the Movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was named Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he had helped form. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement (the others were Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer and Roy Wilkins). At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. In 1965, Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement. Hosea Williams, another notable Civil Rights leader, and John Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965.  They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday."  

Nick Kotz has written six books on politics, social justice, and the Civil Rights Movement, including Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Laws that Changed America (2005). A renowned journalist, Kotz has received a Pulitzer Prize and a National Magazine Award.

Diane Nash became involved in the nonviolent movement in 1959 when she was a student at Fisk University.  She was chairperson of the student sit-in movement in the first southern city to desegregate its lunch counters (Nashville, Tennessee, 1960);  one of the founding students of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (1960); coordinator of the Freedom Ride (from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi, 1961); jailed while pregnant with her first child and the child was expected to be born in jail (Jackson, Mississippi, 1961); she served 30 days in jail in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and was arrested for her civil rights activities many times throughout the South; director of the direct action arm of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1961; she was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to a national committee that promoted passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Nash served as field staff person, organizer, strategist, race relations staff person, and workshop instructor for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 1961–65; she was an activist in the peace movement that worked to end the Vietnam War and an instructor in the philosophy and strategy of non-violence.  Nash was one of two people who conceptualized and formed SCLC’s initial strategy for the Selma Right-To-Vote movement, as well as participated in its development until its conclusion. For this work, she and her costrategist received SCLC's highest award for 1965, which was presented by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The John F. Kennedy Library presented Ms. Nash with their “Distinguished American Award” in March 2003.  Ms. Nash received the LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Rights from The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in March 2004; Lynda Johnson Robb presented the award with Lady Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson in attendance.  Currently, she lectures at colleges and universities and continues to be an activist in civil rights and peace issues. The National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, will present Ms. Nash with their 2008 National Freedom Award on October 28, 2008. 

Dan Rather may be best known for having served as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News from March 9, 1981, to March 9, 2005, yet he has covered virtually every major event in the world in the past 50 years, from his early local reporting in Texas on Hurricane Carla to his unparalleled work covering the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; the Civil Rights Movement; the White House and national politics; and wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia, and Iraq. Rather joined CBS News in 1962 as chief of its Southwest bureau in Dallas. In 1963, he was appointed chief of the Southern bureau in New Orleans, responsible for coverage of news events in the South, Southwest, Mexico, and Central America. During that time, he reported on racial conflicts in the South and the crusade of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the death of President Kennedy. During his forty-four years with CBS News, Rather also held many other prestigious positions, including anchor of the documentary series CBS Reports and of the weekend editions of the CBS Evening News. He served as the CBS News bureau chief in London and Saigon and was the White House correspondent during the Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations. Most recently, in 2006, Rather founded the company News and Guts and became anchor and managing editor of HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports, which specializes in investigative journalism and international reporting.

Richard Valeriani spent 31-plus years as a correspondent for NBC News and the Associated Press, reporting stories from almost 90 countries and all 50 states. During the mid-60s, Valeriani reported on the Civil Rights Movement in the South, including historic events in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. He was hospitalized in Marion, Ala., after being clubbed by a white segregationist during a demonstration. As a reporter, Valeriani also covered riots and rebellions throughout Central and South America. He served as the NBC News bureau chief in Havana and won an Overseas Press Club Award for his coverage of the Dominican Republic Civil War. He also covered the Falkland Islands War and the American invasion of Grenada. In 1979, Valeriani published Travels With Henry, an account of his time as a Washington correspondent for NBC logging 500,000 miles traveling with then–Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Andrew Young began his work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1961. Young became a trusted aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., eventually rising to the executive directorship of the SCLC. He was instrumental in organizing voter registration and desegregation campaigns in Albany and Birmingham, Georgia; Selma, Alabama; and Washington, D.C., among other places. He was with King when the civil rights leader was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. In 1972 Young was elected to Congress representing Georgia’s Fifth Congressional Seat, becoming the first African American representative from that state since Reconstruction. He served as ambassador to the United Nations during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. In 1981, Young was elected mayor of Atlanta, Georgia. Young is currently a professor at Georgia State University's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.