THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965 AND THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS
The fact that statutory changes at the federal level might indeed make a difference in rates of registration at the local level was dramatically documented by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When the Act was passed, in the seven Southern states covered by its provisions only 33.1 per cent of the Black voting-age population was registered to vote. This compared with 73.2 per cent of the White voting-age population. In Mississippi Black registration came to only 35,000 of a possible 422,256, a shocking 8.3 per cent; in Alabama, the figures were 113,000 registered Blacks in a voting-age population of 481,000, or 23.5 per cent.
The situation had been far worse at the start of the decade. In 1962, however, the Southern Regional Council, a private biracial organization formed "to attain the ideals and practices of equal opportunity for all peoples in the South," launched its first Voter Education Project. "A major purpose of the new undertaking," the SRC said. "was to be research into the causes of low political participation, particularly among Blacks, in the South." The method was to make grants to community organizations to conduct voter registration drives, during which weekly progress reports outlining the local difficulties encountered were filed with VEP headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.