Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), often referred to as the “crown jewel” of the civil rights legislation passed by Congress in the 1960s. The VRA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or color in voting, and has been remarkably effective in protecting the voting rights of minorities.

New Yorkers have a special connection to the VRA. In the summer of 1964, two young white, Jewish New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, traveled to Mississippi to register black residents to vote as part of “Freedom Summer.” At the time, approximately 97 percent of blacks in Mississippi were not registered to vote. Andrew Goodman was 20 years old and Michael Schwerner was 24.