Fifty years after his assassination, the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday was celebrated at Columbia’s annual King Day at the Dome rally as speakers highlighted areas that, they said, still require work.
About 1,000 marchers gathered in front of the S.C. State House for the 19th annual rally, organized by the S.C. NAACP, as speakers focused on the fights of the present and future, not the accomplishments of the past.
State NAACP vice president William Gaither said the gains of King’s civil rights movement are threatened by today’s political environment.
“Many have been rolled back or done away with in 2017 by this current administration in Washington, D.C.,” Gaither said.
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Several speakers at Monday’s rally took aim at President Donald Trump. Trump’s election hung over last year’s march, on the eve of the Republican’s inauguration. This year, some speakers took aim at Trump’s derogatory comments last week disparaging some immigrants.
“We have a president in the White House who doesn’t care about us,” said Marion Wilson, former presiding elder of Zion AME Church. “You can tell by what he says — to offend and to hurt and to degrade.
“We don’t want an apology. We want it to stop — now.”
Gaither said the NAACP has been active in the past year, fighting for voting rights, pushing for hate crime legislation, suing to protect immigrants brought to the country when they were children, opposing congressional cuts to health care and mobilizing voters for special elections.
“Hate cannot drive out hate,” he said. “Only love can do that.”
Shaundra Young Scott, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, spoke about the importance of protecting voting rights and the electoral process.
“The voting machines in South Carolina have not been upgraded in 13 years,” she said. “But the iPhone is in its 10th version since 2007.”
Community activist Amy Hayes of Rock Hill told those gathered that they need to be engaged in civic action now, before the next election, in November.
“I’m not going to ask you to vote because that would be asking too little,” Hayes said. “I’m going to ask you to work. ... If you get to the voting booth and decide you don’t care for the candidates running or see uncontested races, you can’t rewind and ask somebody else to run.”
Other issues that won’t be on the ballot this year also got attention.
▪ Lynne Teague of the S.C. League of Women Voters said the important fight is to ensure that voters live in election districts where there is not a guaranteed outcome on election day, based on how those districts have been drawn, or gerrymandered, by politicians. “We need to support independent redistricting, and stop supporting incumbents and parties.”
▪ Columbia attorneys Tierney Dukes and Kierra Brown said, decades after the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, too many S.C. schoolchildren still don’t have school buildings, textbooks, transportation or teachers equal to their peers elsewhere in the state.
▪ Sue Berkowitz with the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which advocates for low-income South Carolinians, called on the Legislature to tighten restrictions on payday lenders.
While the concerns cited varied from speaker to speaker, the consistent theme of Monday’s rally was that maintaining King’s legacy meant getting involved — now.
“2018 will be one of the most pivotal years in American history,” Rock Hill activist Hayes said. “We know that already, and it’s only January.”