Media Resource

Backstory: Give Us the Ballot from "LBJ and the Great Society"

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others look on.
Photo caption

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others look on.  

This episode of Backstory recounts the turbulent history of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Listeners will hear about why and how President Johnson joined the battle for Voting Rights and his precarious alliance with Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Each segment below contains a set of comprehension questions to guide listening, as well as resources.  

A full transcript of the episode is available at the Backstory website.

Audio file

Introduction (1:28-12:00)

Comprehension Questions

  • What is the legacy of President Lyndon B. Johnson? 

  • Why is the right to vote important? 

Additional Resources

Quick facts and a list of links provide an overview of President Johnson’s life and administration on the UVA Miller Center page.

Small Steps (12:05-20:25)

Comprehension Questions

  • What obstacles hindered the way to passing serious voting reform acts during the 1950s? 

  • How did LBJ balance his ambition to become a national political figure and the need to retain support from southerners who put him in a position of leadership in the Democratic Party?  

The Life-and-Death Issue (20:30-27:10)

Comprehension Questions

  • How would you characterize the relationship between MLK and LBJ? 

  • How was the right to vote subverted throughout the South? 

  • What did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 not do?  

EDSITEment Resources

We Shall Overcome (27:10-48:22)

Comprehension Questions

  • Why was it difficult for the Justice Department to fix voting rights abuses?

  • How did African-Americans respond to LBJ’s attempt to hold off on the voting rights issue, to support the rest of the Great Society program first?

  • What tactics did MLK use to gain more widespread support for the civil rights movement?

  • Why did the march from Selma to Montgomery become a turning point in the civil rights movement?

  • What is the legacy of the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Why was the practical impact of the Act limited? 

  • What do you takeaway from the quote, “the past is never past?”  

EDSITEment Resources