As Election Day 2016 approaches, a majority of the approximately 250 million U.S. citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote — regardless of their race or skin color, ancestry, sex, education, income, literacy, religion, English language skills, previous incarceration or disability — but this has not always been the case. The University Libraries exhibit “Journey to Inclusion: Voting Rights in America” in the Diversity Studies Room, 203 Pattee Library, on display through July 6, 2016, reflects on nearly 240 years of voting rights history in the United States.
The history of voting rights in the U.S. begins with a very small group of citizens in the newly formed nation and has grown to include nearly every U.S. citizen. Skipping the intervening years, it looks like a straight and easy journey, headed invariably toward inclusion. In truth, it was a mixed journey, full of setbacks and roadblocks, hard-won victories and leaps forward. It was never guaranteed. Along the way there were heroes, “villains” and people who truly thought their ideas of who should decide who should vote were the correct ones.
In five years, on Aug. 18, 2020, Americans will witness the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which, after a long, hard fight, gave U.S. women the right to vote. The years 2014 and 2015 mark the 50th anniversary of “Freedom Summer” and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the “March from Selma to Montgomery” and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The challenges are not necessarily over.
This exhibit offers snapshots and postcards from across the years. It bows to the classifications history has given groups of people, since this is how they were known then and, for the most part, how they are known now. Along the back wall hang the names of some of the main groups affected along this journey. “Voting booths” in the center of the room offer timelines and expand on some of the journey’s major milestones.
The exhibit highlights a very small sampling of the rich and varied resources on U.S. voting rights, citizenship, immigration, government, history, sociology, politics, and law available through the University Libraries. For help finding these resources and others, please ask at any Reference Desk.