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A Salute to the Women Fighting to Maintain Voting Rights

Barbara Arnwine showing states where law changes could affect Black voting.

On Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, the Alabama State Police spared no activists — not even the women — on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. They, too, were knocked to the ground, trampled by horses and struck by batons, just like the men — all for standing for the rights of African Americans to vote.

As America continues to commemorate the nobility of all of the activists credited for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Women’s History Month is also an opportunity to applaud those key women who, in 2015, continue to fight to maintain the gains that were so painfully won.

In particular, four women on the front lines stand as stark examples. They are Roslyn Brock, chair of the NAACP; Melanie Campbell, president/CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable; Barbara Arnwine, executive director/CEO of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF). In their leadership of some of the nation’s most historic civil rights organizations, these women have dedicated their lives and careers to the causes of maintaining civil rights gains, including voting rights in a major way.

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Under Roslyn’s leadership, the NAACP has continued its Souls to the Polls campaign, in which faith communities and NAACP volunteers have worked tirelessly to galvanize masses of Black people to the polls. Celebrating her fifth year as chair, Roslyn, 49, is the youngest person to hold the position.

Melanie’s leadership also brings together coalitions of people for civic engagement that has led to record numbers of African Americans voting. Her work is widely credited for the history-making turnout in 2012 when the Black voting rate surpassed that of whites and, for the first time in history, Black women voted at higher rates than anyone.

Barbara, who has headed the Lawyers’ Committee for more than 25 years, has led legal battles from the courtroom to the polls. She has helped to organize the Election Protection program to defend the rights of voters on election days. She also is noted as the creator of the “Map of Shame,” showing states and localities that had rolled back on voting rights gains in 2012.

Before becoming leader at the LDF, Sherrilyn was an assistant counsel at the Fund, litigating voting rights cases. Among her wins is Houston Lawyers’ Association v. Attorney General of Texas, which affirmed the application of Section 2 (race, color and language discrimination) of the Voting Rights Act to judicial elections.

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Throughout history, the voices of powerful African American/Black women have led the way to establish voting and civil rights for African Americans. During Women’s History Month, let’s give honor to those who are still at the helm.

AARP helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for and equips Americans 50 and older to live their best lives. Discover all the ways AARP can help you, your family and your community at AARP Black Community.

Photo: Trice Edney News Wire

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