"AN ACT To enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States." The Voting Rights Act of 1965 directly resulted from the voting rights marches in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama earlier that year. It outlawed segregationist Jim Crow laws such as literacy tests and poll taxes designed to keep black citizens from voting in elections. It also gave the federal government the power to oversee voter registration and elections in order to enforce it.
The Act was an immediate success. By 1968, voter registration in Mississippi and other Southern states had increased to fifty percent or higher. By 1988, the gap in voter registration rates in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and North and South Carolina had gone from between 35 and 63 percent down to less than eight percent, and the number of black Southern legislators (state and federal) increased from two to nearly two hundred. It has been hailed as "the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress."
The Voting Rights Act was extended for an additional five years in 1970 and for an additional seven years in 1975. In 1982 it was renewed for twenty-five years and amended to prohibit the use of voting districts designed to dilute minority voting power.