Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Jennifer Frost's "Let Us Vote!"

Jennifer Frost is Associate Professor of History at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and author of “An Interracial Movement of the Poor”: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960s, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservativism, and Producer of Controversy: Stanley Kramer, Hollywood Liberalism, and the Cold War.

Frost applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, "Let Us Vote!": Youth Voting Rights and the 26th Amendment, and reported the following:
My book tells the story of how and why young Americans won the right to vote. The 26th Amendment to the US Constitution, passed and ratified in 1971, extended that right to citizens aged eighteen and up and prohibited discrimination in voting “on account of age.” This inspiring and important story about thirty years of efforts, campaigns, and eventual youth franchise movement is not explicitly evident on page 99. But what is there demonstrates a key argument of my book: civil rights organizing, legislation, and successes paved the way for youth voting rights.

Page 99 appears in a chapter on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. These two historic pieces of legislation restored the full citizenship rights of African Americans already recognized by the 14th and 15th Amendments. Prohibiting segregation in public accommodations and discrimination in employment was the purpose of the Civil Rights Act, while re-enfranchising African Americans was the point of the Voting Rights Act. When the Voting Rights Act came up for renewal in 1970, the revised version would include the right to vote for 18, 19, and 20-year-olds.

Prominent figures and events from 1963 feature on page 99. President John F. Kennedy sent his civil rights bill to Congress in June, setting the legislation in motion. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August put pressure on the president and Congress to act. The next month Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. followed up on his famous “I Have a Dream” speech:

“The hundreds of thousands who marched in Washington marched to level barriers,” King emphasized in an essay in the New York Times Magazine in September. “They summed up everything in a word—NOW.” He underscored the urgency of the historical moment. “The long-deferred issue of second-class citizenship has become our nation’s first-class crisis.” New legislation was needed to curb the crisis. “Everything, not some of the things, in the President’s civil-rights bill is part of NOW.”

Passage of the civil rights bill fell to Lyndon B. Johnson after the terrible assassination of President Kennedy in November. Later President Johnson would also take the lead on the voting rights bill, and he considered adding youth suffrage to the bill. But he decided to focus first on ensuring and protecting black voting rights, and only in 1968 did he put his full weight behind youth voting rights.

Page 99 shows the civil rights movement pushing politicians and propelling progress toward a more inclusive American democracy. In turn, the youth franchise movement built on this progress to achieve the 26th Amendment.
Learn more about "Let Us Vote!" at the NYU Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Producer of Controversy.

The Page 99 Test: Producer of Controversy.

--Marshal Zeringue