Newswire: More than 800 faith leaders demand Biden, Senate pass Voting Rights Bill

Martin Luther King III gives remarks during the NNPA’s Legacy Awards Gala at the National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Md. on June 23, 2017. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)

Rev. Martin Luther King III

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and more than 800 faith leaders from various religions are demanding that President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats immediately push through voting rights legislation.

“We cannot be clearer: you must act now to protect every American’s freedom to vote without interference and with confidence that their ballot will be counted and honored,” the faith leaders wrote in the letter released on Thursday, December 23, 2021.

“Passing comprehensive voting rights legislation must be the number-one priority of the administration and Congress,” they wrote.

In addition to Sharpton and King, those signing the letter included a mix of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faith leaders. Rev. Aaron Frank of Horseheads, New York, Rabbi Abby Cohen of Portland, Oregon, Rabbi Abby Michaleski of the Beth Israel Congregation, Rev. Abhi Janamanchi of Bethesda, Maryland, Rabbi Abram Goodstein of the Congregation Beth Sholom, and Rev. Adam Russell Taylor.

King and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, organized the leaders and wrote the letter. The African American Christian Clergy Coalition joined them, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action and Faith in Public Life, and others joined.

The Congressional Black Caucus has pushed legislation, including two voting rights bills blocked by the GOP.

“This year, American democracy faced extraordinary challenges, from the violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol to over 30 anti-voting bills pushed through state legislatures, intentionally designed to silence Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, low-income, LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, and elderly and young voters,” the faith leaders wrote.

“During this season of giving and community, we are painfully aware that the promise of American democracy is thwarted by systemic racism and a system that works for the few at the expense of the public good.”

The letter continued: “It will continue on this path without prompt, substantive federal action. During the Civil Rights era, prominent leaders were driven by their faith to fight for equality. This is why we continue the push for voting rights today – our faith teaches us that each one of us deserves dignity and freedom.

“We cannot be clearer: you must act now to protect every American’s freedom to vote without interference and with confidence that their ballot will be counted and honored. Passing comprehensive voting rights legislation must be the number-one priority of the administration and Congress.

“Nothing – including the filibuster – should stand in the way of passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, both of which have already passed the House and await Senate action and leadership.

“The communities we represent will continue to sound the alarm until these bills are passed. While we come from different faiths, we are united by our commitment to act in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us.

“On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, we will accompany Martin Luther King III, Arndrea King, Yolanda Renee King, and voting rights advocates across the country to honor Dr. King’s legacy by calling for Congress and the President to restore and expand access to the ballot for all voters. It’s time to stop lamenting the state of our democracy and take action to address it.

“As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so valiantly said in his Give Us The Ballot address, “the denial of this sacred right [to vote] is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.”

“That is why this Martin Luther King Day, we will not accept empty promises. Congress must serve the nation and future generations by immediately passing voting rights legislation.”

Newswire: NAACP, Black Leaders demand Congress act on voting rights

Derrick Johnson, President of NAACP

By Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

With voter suppression laws taking shape in Texas, Georgia, Arizona, and just about every GOP-led state in the nation, NAACP President Derrick Johnson is pleading for Democrats and the White House to show a sense of urgency. In a scathing op-ed, Johnson said, “we cannot out-organize voter suppression.”“We organized in November to put people in office to address the issue of voter suppression. We did not organize in November to let elected officials off the hook to organize again and overcome a new hurdle. Voters did their job as citizens, and now they’re simply asking elected officials to do their job to protect our right to vote,” Johnson remarked. Nearly six decades after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights activists led the 1963 March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom, that helped establish voting rights for millions of Black Americans, African American leaders will again descend on the nation’s capital to demand Congress protect the rights. Martin Luther King III, Yolanda King, Andrea Waters King, and others plan to march with more than 140 organizations and thousands of Americans on Saturday, August 28, to advocate for eliminating the Jim Crow filibuster and passing three critical voting rights bills – the For the People Act, John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Washington D.C. Admission Act. The mobilization comes just months after Black voters overcame significant barriers to the vote and organized their communities to change the course of the country — “and now ask that the White House and Congress do their part to protect our democracy and stand on the right side of history,” the leaders said in a news release. In his op-ed, Johnson declared that “voting rights shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Yet the contentious dispute on whether to defend every American’s right to vote has taken center stage in Congress, and for an unnecessary amount of precious time.” He continued:“With time not on our side, there is no reason we should still be debating whether to pass a civil rights bill that will indubitably strengthen our fractured democracy by achieving the one goal our nation’s essence depends on – lending a voice to the people.” Johnson contradicted Republican Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who infamously and erroneously stated that “it is easier for eligible Americans to vote than ever before in American history.” “State legislators around the country have introduced more than 400 bills that will make it more difficult for Americans to exercise their constitutional voting rights, and at least 18 states have passed such legislation,” Johnson wrote. “Ingrained in these attacks on voting rights are generations-long patterns of discrimination targeting communities of color, particularly Black communities. The overwhelming evidence of voter suppression speaks to this truth: It is easier for privileged, eligible Americans to vote than ever before in American history.” Any decision not in favor of significant voting legislation under consideration by Congress will cost the lives of millions of Americans whose very voices are jeopardized, Johnson insisted. “For instance, in May, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation to ban curbside voting, consequentially forbidding poll workers to set up curbside voting centers and preventing voting machines from being stationed outside a polling place,” Johnson noted. “While many proponents argue that this restriction is rightfully erected to honor the integrity of our elections, this rationalization completely disregards the lack of accommodating resources for the elderly and people with disabilities – and the overall safety and wellness of voters who reside in a state where COVID-19 vaccinations are abysmal and infection rates are rising.” When signing the 1965 voting rights legislation, President Lyndon B. Johnson understood that the right to vote is an issue of human dignity, Johnson continued. “He once said, ‘It is wrong, deadly wrong, to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of states’ rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.” “Elected officials hold the invaluable key to ensuring that our future elections are fair and accessible. Those in power who have given an oath to serve their district, their state, and inherently their country have a responsibility to commit to their purpose of guaranteeing that the people they represent and champion will be heard and not be silenced.”

Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast and Slow-ride only in-person event of the virtual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma

Sunday March 7th was the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. The Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast held in the Wallace Community College parking lot and a Slow-ride of over 200 cars across the bridge were the only in-person activities of the four-day Bridge Crossing Jubilee. The Unity Breakfast, which was held in a socially distanced way with people in their cars viewing the speakers on two large television screens, featured a host of speakers including President Joe Biden, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Mayor James Perkins, Martin Luther King III, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Charles Steele, SCLC President, Jonathan Jackson representing his father Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and many others. Several persons received awards including Congressman James Clyburn, Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia and LaTosha Brown and Attorney Cliff Albright, co-founders of Black Voters Matter also made presentations. In his video comments, President Biden announced his plans to sign an Executive Order later in the day, making it easier to register and vote and mobilizing all Federal agencies to support voter registration and participation. Biden who had attended the Unity Breakfast in 2014, when he was Vice-President, said, “We must be vigilant or people will take our basic rights away. The Republicans have been chipping away at voting rights for many years. Now 256 measures have been introduced in 43 state legislatures to cut back and suppress the right to vote and make it difficult for people to vote.” Biden and other speakers promoted support for and passage of HR-1 “For the People Act” which will strengthen voting rights, make voter registration automatic and contains ethics provisions to reduce the influence of money in campaigns; and HR-4 “the John Lewis Voting Rights Act” which would restore Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, stripped out by the U. S. Supreme Court in Shelby vs. Holder, and again allow for Justice Department pre-clearance of state and local voting regulations. Congresswoman Terri Sewell said she was proud to stand on the shoulders of the many foot-soldiers that made the Civil Rights Movement and Voting Rights Movement a success. She said that she had just voted to approve the American Rescue Plan which will provide financial and healthcare benefits to the American people and mitigate the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. “ I regret that this is our first celebration of Bloody Sunday without my friend and mentor, Congressman John Lewis, who passed in 2020. We must redouble our efforts to pass HR1 and HR 4 to honor his memory,” said Sewell. Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said it was important to support HR-1, HR-4 and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, for criminal justice reforms. She suggested calling your Senators at 202-224-3121 (the U. S. Capitol switchboard) and urge them to vote for these important reforms. Cliff Albright in his remarks said, “The movement is not over. As we did in 1965, we must continue to do today.” He urged the crowd to “Push their U. S. Senators to end the filibuster, an undemocratic relic of slavery. We will not be able to pass HR-1, HR-4 and other critical legislation, as long as the 60 vote requirements of the filibuster remain in place.” LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said. “ I am a child of Selma. This community trained me and taught me to believe in the power of people and when people rise up they can make meaningful change.” Rev. Bernard Lafayette spoke to honor the contributions of civil rights leaders who had died in the past year: Dr. Joseph Lowery, C.T. Vivian, Congressman John Lewis, Attorney Bruce Boynton and Vernon Jordan. At the conclusion of the Unity Breakfast, about 200 cars, with their flashers on participated in a slow-ride across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the spot where marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday in 1965. A group of family members led by Rev. Lafayette said prayers and then placed wreaths at the Voting Rights Memorial Park on the eastern side of the bridge.

55th Bridge Crossing Jubilee to be held in Selma February 27 to March 1, 2020

Stacey Abrams, Georgia Voting Rights activist, Martin Luther King III and family, Nobel Prize laureate, Leymah Gobwee of Liberia among honorees at Sunday’s Unity Breakfast

The 55th Bridge Crossing Jubilee, to commemorate the 1965 ‘Bloody Sunday March’ for voting rights will be held in Selma from Thursday, February 27 to Sunday March 1, 2020.
This is the largest national event to celebrate voting and civil rights.
The Jubilee will consist of church services, workshops on civil rights related issues, a street festival, breakfasts, dinners, a parade, golf tournament and other events, culminating in Sunday afternoon’s re-enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights March, from Brown’s Chapel AME Church across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
A key part of the program is the Martin & Coretta King Unity Breakfast at Wallace Community College Selma on Sunday, March 1st, which begins at 7:30 a.m. and opens the commemoration of Bloody Sunday.
Several persons are slated to receive the Martin and Coretta King Unity Award at the breakfast and will speak, among them are Stacey Abrams of Georgia, Martin Luther King III, his wife Arndrea Waters King and their 11-year-old daughter Yolanda Renee King, Leymah Gobwee of Liberia and Columba Toure of Senegal.
“Stacey Abrams was the first Black woman in the nation to win major party’s nomination for governor, and she came very close to being elected the governor of Georgia, a Deep South state. Abrams is also one of the foremost leaders in the country in voter registration and voter participation and is a strong contender for Vice President in this year’s presidential election,” said Hank Sanders, co-founder of the Bridge Crossing Jubilee and the Selma-to-Montgomery March Foundation. 
 Foundation and President of Wallace Community College Selma, said: “Leader Abrams is one of the speakers most in demand across the nation. She always has something powerful and worthwhile to share. We look forward to hearing her strong vision for our nation on March 1st in Selma.” 
“Martin Luther King, III, his wife, Arndrea Waters King and their daughter, Yolanda Renee King have been deeply involved in Civil Rights, the Voting Rights struggle and human rights for a lifetime. The three members of the King family, all became very active and effective in the struggle for justice for all from very young ages. Martin Luther King, III, has attended almost all of the Martin & Coretta King Unity Breakfasts since the very beginning,” according to Hank Sanders.
Noble Peace Prize Recipient Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and international leader Coumba Toure of Senegal will be honored at the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast in Selma on Sunday, March 1st, at Wallace Community College Selma. Leymah Gbowee will receive the inaugural International Peace and Justice Award, and Coumba Toure will receive the International Unity Award. 
Gbowee, the 2020 inaugural Peace and Justice Award recipient, was one of three women awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Dr. James Mitchell, Chair of the Selma-to-Montgomery March Foundation and President of Wallace Community College Selma (WCCS), said: “Leymah Gbowee organized women in her native Liberia to end Liberia’s civil war. Her fearless, remarkable and creative efforts and women-led movement transformed Liberia and gave the Liberian people a future that had been ripped from them through civil war, rape and other violence and oppression. The power of her work, vision and courage cannot be overstated.” 
Working across religious and ethnic lines in Liberia, Gbowee led thousands of Christian and Muslim women in praying and in working non-violently for peace, using Muslim and Christian prayers. They held daily nonviolent demonstrations and sit-ins in defiance of orders from the tyrannical Liberian President at that time, Charles Taylor. Their efforts succeeded in ending 14 years of war and removing Taylor from office in 2003.
Gbowee’s powerful memoir is Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, and she is also the subject of the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Gbowee’s influential work and service across Africa includes her being Founder and President of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa based in Monrovia, Liberia, which provides educational and leadership opportunities to girls, women and the youth in Liberia. She has served as the Executive Director of the Ghana-based Women Peace and Security Network Africa, which supports women’s capacity to prevent, avert, and end conflicts in West Africa and has also served as the commissioner-designate for the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 
 Coumba Toure, the 2020 International Unity Award recipient, has worked for more than two decades to promote social change in West Africa. She is Coordinator for Africans Rising for peace, justice and dignity based in Dakar, Senegal. Hank Sanders, co-founder of the Bridge Crossing Jubilee and the Selma-to-Montgomery March Foundation said: “Coumba Toure has dedicated her life to serving others and improving the lives of women, children and all people of all ages from West Africa to right here in Selma. Much of her work focuses on positive change in the nations of West Africa, and her service also reaches across the world to include helping young people through the Institute for Popular Education in Mali, the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement in Selma and more.” 
More information on all of the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee events and tickets are available through the website: