Aug. 4, 2015 - Atlanta - Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (left) applauds as Congressman John Lewis delivers his remarks, which included his experiences in Selma in 1965 on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Andrew Young, Dr. Joseph Lowery, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King III and Congressman John Lewis joined others at the 50th Observance of the Struggle for the 1965 Voting Rights Act Luncheon at the Wheat Street Baptist Church today, part of an all day dialog held at the church. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

U.S. Rep. John Lewis: “We have a fight on our hands”

Marking the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, political and civil rights leaders gathered in Atlanta on Tuesday to call for Congress to restore some of the laws’ key tenets that were struck down two years ago.

“I tell you, we have a fight on our hands. I happen to think we’re too quiet,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights leader and one of the most influential Democrats in Congress when it comes to voting rights. He’s among those in Congress backing a bill to restore the lost provisions. “We have to speak up, to speak out, to find a way to get in the way, to get in good trouble and necessary trouble.”

He was joined by the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ambassador Andrew Young, Martin Luther King III, Mayor Kasim Reed and others. The meeting, which was held at the historic Wheat Street Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue and drew more than 100 people, was organized by King’s nonprofit, Realizing the Dream, and The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.

The event comes five decades after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on Aug. 6, 1965. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of that act in 2013, however, effectively ruling that states with a history of voter suppression no longer needed approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before changing election laws.

The court said the formula for “pre-clearance,” or approval from the Department of Justice, was unconstitutional and outdated, but that Congress could come up with a new formula. In 2006, there was overwhelming bipartisan support for renewing the Voting Rights Act. But, since the Supreme Court struck down pre-clearance in 2013, Republican leaders have blocked efforts to revive it.

Republicans in Georgia and elsewhere have argued that the Voting Rights Act remains strong enough to ensure minorities aren’t disenfranchised. They have also said that pre-clearance is too intrusive.

But on Tuesday, Lewis, Jackson, Reed and others called for a new push on voting rights. To learn more, visit MYAJC.com.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.