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Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy Hardcover – April 9, 2013

4.7 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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  • Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy
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  • The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding Americans' Right to Vote (A Century Foundation Book)
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  • Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The Supreme Court will soon consider Shelby County (AL) v. Holder, challenging the “pre-clearance” provision of the Voting Rights Act (which Congress extended for 25 years in 2006). For readers who don’t recall the era before the VRA’s hard-fought passage, in 1965, University of Delaware historian May offers an involving narrative of the law’s history and consequences. May’s prologue sketches African American voting rights from the Emancipation Proclamation to the early 1960s and spotlights national leaders (Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Charles Evers, John Lewis, James Farmer, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.) present when Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law. In the chapters that follow, however, he stresses the critical work of lesser-known activists, like Amelia and Sam Boynton, Bernard Lafayette, and James Forman, and the powerful impact they and their intransigent opponents, Sheriff Jim Clark and Alabama governor George Wallace, had on public and congressional attitudes. May then traces the bill’s dramatic legislative history, describes the results of its implementation, examines the issues in its four congressional reauthorizations, and outlines challenges it currently faces. An illuminating history of a law that remains all too relevant. --Mary Carroll

From Bookforum

Bending Toward Justice offers up a bracing reminder of what has changed since the civil rights era, and what hasn't. --Dahlia Lithwick
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465018467
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465018468
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #697,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alan Ginsberg on May 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bending Toward Justice is a superb book. It fully, yet succinctly, recalls the mighty efforts by so many to make the Fifteenth Amendment a reality. The successful Congressional fight in Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act was complex, but here is clearly explained. Author Gary May does a fine job of discussing renewals of the Voting Rights Act, which coincided with increasing political participation and office holding by African Americans. He tells of recent efforts to limit voter registration and voting--what I call "equal opportunity Jim Crow laws". And with the Supreme Court now (late May, 2013) on the verge of possibly overturning key parts of the law, Gary May reminds us that the "history [of disfranchisement] may well repeat itself."
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Format: Hardcover
Gary May's authoritative history of the Voting Rights Act is an absorbing page-turner, full of little known stories. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg quoted the May's book in the dissent to the 5-4 ruling, crippling the Voting Rights Act, that was just decided (in June, 2013) by the Supreme Court. If you've watched Eyes on the Prize or Mississippi Burning, you still don't know the real stories of change and hope that came after passage of the Act, like how Jim Clark, the notorious sheriff of Jefferson County, whose forces brutally assaulted black and white activists marching for voting rights, turned around and invited black voters for barbecue and beer once black voters became a power in his district.

The fight for voting rights is becoming, once again, a major theme in US politics. For anyone who wants to understand what's at stake -- and why there's reason for both concern and hope -- or how a previous generation transformed America through the power of the vote -- this is an essential read.
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished Gary May's book and it is a true work of art. My heart breaks at the recent developments in the Supreme Court, which May scarily predicts in his book. There are so many amazing characters in this story of struggle, bravery and courage. I had never heard of Julia Wilder and Maggie Bozeman, nor of the the "Subversive Six." Their stories are unbelievable. May's book is pivotal for the fight to honor the Voting Rights Act and has never been more important than right now. It is a must-read, casting light on our crucial history and paving the way for a better future. May's book recounts "the struggle of a lifetime" which can never be forgotten.
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Format: Hardcover
This has to be the most discouraging book I read in 2013; discouraging in the sense that we're still fighting the same battles, against the same villains, it's just that the bad guys seem to have gotten smarter while the good guys don't seem to be able to make the best arguments. On the other hand, I've just finished reading Rashid Khalidi's "Brokers Of Deceit" and that makes this topic seem quaint by comparison----there is no happy ending, and absolutely nothing encouraging about our policy in the Middle East.

The first half of "Bending Towards Justice" ("The arc of history is long but it bends towards Justice") relates the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement for an end to Jim Crow, and to get the Voting Rights Act. It is a story of hard won triumph told rather straightforward, with epic incidents of brutality, caught on news cameras. Almost as soon as the Voting Rights act is passed though, the Civil Rights Movement splinters between the non-violent factions and the more aggressive, even racist, elements; then, with the Los Angeles Watts riots that summer, and other race riots to follow; the murder of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy; and amid the surge in anti-war protests, the movement seemingly evaporates.

The second half is drier by far, relating the ongoing congressional struggles to keep the Voting Rights Act intact, and details how, with each succeeding election cycle, the very success of the Act becomes its own worst enemy; The Voting Rights Act increasingly looks as if it's redundant, especially with the election of an African American President. Yet, what we also see is that the enemies of the Act; of universal franchise; and ultimately, of anyone who might vote Democrat, have learned their lesson.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A good report of the great struggle to bring justice and fair play to our country. I wish the battle was over, but fear not. It seems that fear of the unknown is still found in the USA. It seems we go a slow step or two forward, but then slip back. The courage displayed in the civil rights movement shows the importance of "bending toward Justice". A clearly and well written recap that everyone will profit from reading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In light of the 2013 US Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that struck down key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Bending Toward Justice is a perfect combination of narrative, page-turning history, and analysis of the origins, interpretations, and applications of the Act. While familiar civil rights personalities grace the pages of May's book, it's the addition of everyday people and their personal experiences--often in their hometown and state--that really bring this book to life. These personal narratives do something more than compel you to turn the pages, however. Instead, they make abstract laws and public policy tangible and accessible. In addition, May's indepth discussion of the interpretations and applications of the Voting Rights Act throughout the 20th century allows readers to understand that passing the Act in 1965 marked the beginning, not the end, of securing voting rights in a constantly changing nation still grappling with racial divisions. May's book is one of those rare historical works that bridges the gap between academic historians and the lay, interested reader; both will enjoy and get something out of his book. I can see using Bending Toward Justice in the classroom for years to come, and recommending it to anyone who wants to know more about the contemporary and ongoing conversation about voting rights.
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