Atlanta, GA – Sitting alongside three generations of civil rights leaders, the dean of the civil rights movement, Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, told an intergenerational crowd at historic Wheat Street Baptist Church that “the black spirit” was the key factor to their success in getting the Voting Rights Act (VRA) passed in 1965. The rare gathering of leaders was part of a day-long event commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act last week.
Hosted by The Peoples Agenda, led by Helen Butler; and Realizing The Dream, led by Martin Luther King III; “The South and the 2016 Elections: Overcoming Contemporary Challenges to Political Participation” featured sessions outlining current barriers to political participation, voter education and voter registration training. Co-sponsors of the event include: NAACP National Voter Fund, African American Human Rights Foundation, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, among others.
The luncheon discussion recounted the struggle for the 1965 VRA and outlined what citizens need to do to make sure key provisions of the VRA struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 are restored. Joining Lowery in the dialogue were: Congressman John Lewis (D-GA); Ambassador Andrew Young, the nation’s first African-American Ambassador to the United Nations; Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., founder and president, Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell; and Wade Henderson, president, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Congressman Lewis, who recently joined a group of Senate and House lawmakers to introduce the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, urged the crowd to “get in the way, in good trouble.” He said, “I think we are too quiet. We need to get up there and make some noise. Bring the Bill to the floor and we will pass it and President Barack Obama will sign it into law.”
“Back then coming together was not about us,” said Ambassador Young. “It was about us moving the society forward…. We understood that God brought us here to give leadership and vision to this one nation. We have to move forward with black and white together, rich and poor, together. Hold on to the plow and keep on keeping on.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson added, “We’re on the back of legislature like we were on the back of the bus. The South Carolina flag come down, but the agenda did not come down. We need an amendment to the constitution.”
“We have to fight on two fronts,” offered Mayor Reed. “We have to fight on the intellectual level and we have to take it to the streets and punish any politician that does not sign on to the reauthorizing of the Voting Rights Act.”
A proclamation from the Atlanta City Council was presented by Mitchell to The Peoples Agenda and Realizing The Dream for their commitment to keeping the dialogue alive on issues related to voting rights and their work in the community. Mitchell commented, “It’s great to celebrate the work of the ages but when we leave here the work has to continue in our neighborhoods.”
Henderson, a civil rights attorney, pointed out that President Barack Obama would not be president today if leaders had not fought for the VRA in the 60s. He said, “Demand your rights as full Americans. If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”
Lowery, founder of The Peoples’ Agenda, closed the program preaching, “I shouldn’t be out but I couldn’t stay away from this meeting. I want to thank all of you who came out and I want to thank the spirit in which you’ve come; that’s the key to Black progress, the Black spirit.”
The co-founder with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of SCLC continued, “They can’t keep us down because of the Black spirit. We must keep the spirit alive. Don’t let anybody tame that spirit, it’s loose, it’s unbridled, untamed and uncontrollable, and it’s the key to the future.”
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PHOTO CAPTION: Civil rights leaders of the past and present stand behind the dean of the movement, Dr. Joseph E. Lowery after a conversation on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Standing (L-R) – Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell; Rita Samuels, GCBW; Ambassador Andrew Young; Martin Luther King III; Rev. Jesse Jackson; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; Helen Butler, The Peoples’ Agenda; civil rights attorney, Wade Henderson; and Congressman John Lewis and Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery seated.
PHOTO CREDIT: Clyde Bradley