Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “March on the Ballot Boxes” speech in Kingstree, and the South Carolina town is planning special events this weekend to mark the occasion.
King’s speech, in front of a crowd of about 5,000 on Mother’s Day 1966, encouraged people to vote as a means of pursuing social and economic justice, according to www.marchonballotboxes.com.
What distinguished this speech was that it came after other King marches on the national stage, in places like Washington, D.C. and Selma, and after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
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It also was one of only three public speeches King gave in the Palmetto State, according to www.marchonballotboxes.com.
On this day in 1966, according to a story by www.npr.org, King engaged in a more personal movement, away from the national spotlight, telling the Kingstree crowd that while Congress passed legislation to ensure the right to vote with interference, the struggle wasn’t over.
He told the crowd they not only needed to make sure friends and family registered to vote, but must then get out and vote themselves, according to www.npr.org.
Among those attending the speech in Kingstree was Democratic U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, then a young man.
“My wife Emily and I were in attendance on that spring day in Kingstree, 50 years ago, when Dr. King sounded his clarion call to ‘march to the ballot box,’” Clyburn said in a statement on www.marchonballotboxes.com. “From that moment, we were inspired toward a lifetime of service and engagement.”
Clyburn, along with former S.C. state representative and CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers, are among featured speakers at Sunday’s event. Clyburn and Sellers will discuss the historical significance of King’s speech and civil rights today.
In addition to speeches from Clyburn and Sellers, the schedule of events includes a video presentation of King’s “March on Ballot Boxes” speech; the unveiling of a historical marker made possible by the S.C. Department of Archives and History; a presentation of awards for youth essay and art contests; and a gospel celebration. The original recording of King’s speech has been made available by the University of South Carolina, which houses the file in their Moving Image Research Collection.
Honorary chairs for the event are Ambassador Andrew Young and Clarence Jones. Both were civil rights activists who attended the 1966 speech, held on the athletic field of Tomlinson High School in Kingstree.
“It is an honor to be a part of this event and pay tribute to Dr. King,” Young said in a statement. “As we continue to fight for equal rights for all, it is important to remember the impact that one individual can have on the lives of millions.”
If you go
Sunday’s event is free and open to the public.
Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs and to arrive by 3 p.m. The program will begin at 3:30 p.m.
Parking will be available at Anderson Elementary School and Farmers Telephone Cooperative near the Tomlinson High School athletic fields on Tomlinson Street in Kingstree.
Excerpts from the speech
King’s “March on the Ballot Boxes” speech in 1966 in Kingstree:
“Let us march on ballot boxes ... so men and women will no longer walk the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. ...
“Let us march on ballot boxes until brotherhood is more than a meaningless word at the end of a prayer, but the first order of business on every legislative agenda. Let us march on ballot boxes. ...
“Let us march on ballot boxes until every valley shall be exalted, till every mountain and hill shall be made low, until the rough places are made plain and the crooked places straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. ...
“Let us march on ballot boxes until we are able to send to the statehouses of the South men who will do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God. Let us march on ballot boxes.”