Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requires states that want to change their voting maps to get federal approval. Why? In short, to prevent racial discrimination. Officials in Calera, Ala. — where new voting districts that drastically cut the proportion of black voters in Voting District 2 were voided by the Department of Justice — argue that its racial issues are in the past and that the protections of the act are no longer necessary. A piece from Reuters this weekend explores why that claim is “far from obvious”:
But Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court appears ready to re-examine the preclearance rule, which covers all or part of 16 states, most of them in the South. In deciding another case three years ago, he wrote: “Things have changed in the South.” He suggested that the provision may no longer be needed.
As events in Calera show, however, whether the law is unnecessary is far from obvious.
Like many places in the Old South, Calera and surrounding Shelby County witnessed dark chapters of racial violence after the Civil War. Lynching continued into the early 1900s. In Calera, older residents still recall poll taxes and Dairy Queen drinking fountains marked “whites” and “colored.” As recently as 1999 a large Confederate flag hung in the entrance to the Shelby County Historical Society Museum, according to Bobby Joe Seales, society president, who said he removed the flag that year when he took office.
But Calera has changed. Thanks partly to spillover from bedroom communities in Birmingham to the north, its population has more than doubled in the last decade to 11,700. A city once known for its rail hub and lime manufacturing now boasts a growing service and retailing sector. Blacks continue to make up slightly more than a fifth of the population, but neighborhoods are much less clearly defined by race.
Read more at the Huffington Post.