Alabama struggle defends voter rights

Selma, Ala. — The National Coalition of Leaders to Save Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is in the forefront of the struggle to fight the Supreme Court challenge that would render the 1965 Voters Act all but ineffective. On June 14, this coalition held a daylong caravan throughout Alabama.  Rallies and marches were held in four towns and cities.

The Supreme Court could rule any day on the challenge that was filed in the Shelby County Court in Columbiana, Ala.

Section 5 states that 16 states, the majority in the Deep South — states that have had systematic voter rights violations — cannot make changes to voter laws and regulations without federal authorization, thereby protecting not only the rights of Black voters, but of others such as Latino/a and immigrant voters.  Section 4 outlawed the infamous literacy tests.

In 1965, 26-year-old Jimmy Lee Jackson was brutally murdered by Alabama police for participating in a protest for voter rights.  For four years he had tried to register to vote.  His death was one of many beatings, deaths and injustices that sparked the voter rights movement, including the historic Selma to Montgomery march that finally began on March 16, 1965, after the first two attempts were thwarted by vicious police attacks.  The first attempt became known as the infamous “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965, when civil rights leaders were viciously beaten, including Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader John Lewis, whose skull was split open.

During these marches, protesters slept in muddy fields after walking 12 miles a day.

The history of this movement reverberated in the June 14 protest.

Braving the grueling Alabama heat 

Crowds varying between 200 and 500 people at various points participated in the all-day caravan that began in Kelly Ingram Park across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where four African-American girls died in the racist church bombing carried out by the Ku Klux Klan on Sept. 15, 1963.

The caravan then proceeded to the Shelby County Courthouse in Columbiana.  State Sen. Hank Sanders, a longtime leader for Black rights and one of the organizers, explained at the rally there that “Section 5 is the heart of the Voters Rights Act.”

The caravan then proceeded to Selma where participants marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and ended at the state Capitol in Montgomery.

Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, spoke at all four rallies, pointing out the hypocrisy of those who opposed his coming to Alabama.  At each rally, he exclaimed that “the soil of Alabama is filled with the blood of my ancestors” and that he had every right to be in Alabama.

Despite broiling heat that led to the collapse and hospitalization of several participants, each activity proceeded and was attended by members of the community.

Attorney Faya Rose Touré, noted for her litigation for reparations, tirelessly chaired each event.

National Southern Christian Leadership Conference CEO, Dr. Charles Steele, announced at the Pettus Bridge rally, “If we have to go to jail, we will do so.”  The NAACP was represented along with a number of political leaders, including the Tuskegee mayor, Johnny Ford, who stood firm on his and Sander’s invitation to Minister Louis Farrakhan to speak, along with state Sen. Bobby Singleton, House Rep. Thad McClammy and political leader Joe Reed.

A delegation from the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly drove from Baltimore to show solidarity with the delegation from Selma, who traveled and participated in the May 11-12 Poor Peoples March to Washington, D.C., including Touré.

This delegation was able to lock arms with the same powerful women who traveled all night and join in the same chants and civil rights songs, only this time over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, Baltimore president of the SCLC and representative of the Peoples Power Assembly, spoke at both the Capitol in Montgomery and at the Shelby County Courthouse.  He linked up the struggles for poor and workers’ rights with the voter rights movement.

Witherspoon stated: “Something very significant is happening here, regardless of the Supreme Court ruling, which every worker has a stake in, a new civil rights movement is being born.  The recent election of Chokwe Lumumba, in Jackson, Mississippi, and the movement in North Carolina against attacks on voter’s rights, are all connected.”

Black is a representative of the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly and participated in all of the rallies and marches in Alabama.