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On Aug. 28: A March On Washington Will Call For Voting Rights Protections

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on this day in 1965. Today, civil rights leaders are using the anniversary to push for voting rights in our time. And those leaders include King's eldest son, Martin Luther King III.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III: We see over 400 pieces of legislation. I think about 20 states have passed restrictive laws. So we're in a very interesting time as it relates to the preservation of democracy.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

In thinking about how to face that very interesting time, King recalled the drive for change in the '60s.

KING: In 1964, my father went to visit President Johnson. And he said, Mr. President, we need to get voting rights. The president said to him, I understand what you're saying, but I really don't have the political ability to do anything. When Dad and his team left the White House, it was jokingly said, well, the president said he doesn't have the power. We're going to have to go out and create the power.

INSKEEP: What came next were civil rights demonstrations across the South, the first in Selma, Ala., in March 1965.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You are ordered to disperse.

KING: It was called Bloody Sunday. And, obviously, on that day, people were beaten very bad. And John Lewis ended up getting a concussion, put in the hospital and a number of others. And it was awful.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This march will not continue.

(SCREAMING)

INSKEEP: Soon after Bloody Sunday, President Johnson told Congress that he favored passing federal voting rights legislation, even though it would not be easy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LYNDON B JOHNSON: As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil, I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society.

KING: In 1965, with racism looming very, very large, you could automatically assume, well, we're not going to be able to get anything done. But I just don't believe in that. My mother used to say every generation has to earn its freedom. One day, it will be permanent, but it's not the case today.

MARTINEZ: That was Martin Luther King III. He's helping organize a series of voting rights demonstrations across the nation that culminate in Washington, D.C., on August 28, which falls on the 58th anniversary of his father's "I Have A Dream" speech. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.