Atlanta Marchers Want Voting Rights Act Renewed
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
Key provisions of the Voting Rights Act are set to expire in 2007, including one that requires some states to receive federal approval before changing their voting laws. Thousands of people marched today in Atlanta to call attention to a new Georgia law mandating stricter voter identification. From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Emily Kopp reports.
EMILY KOPP reporting:
Throngs of people gathered on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to begin the march. Many wore gold NAACP shirts. Others carried signs from their church congregations, sororities and alumni associations. Sixty-five-year-old Emma Jean Davis warmed up her voice.
Ms. EMMA JEAN DAVIS: What do you want?
Unidentified Group: (In unison) Voting rights.
Ms. DAVIS: When do you want it?
Unidentified Group: (In unison) Now.
KOPP: Davis says decades ago she marched to desegregate Rich's department store here in Atlanta. She brought her 11-year-old granddaughter today for what she says is another historic march.
Ms. DAVIS: And I am enthusiastic that I see all of these people out here and that they're doing such a wonderful thing today to march for our right to vote.
KOPP: The crowd marched to the stadium at historically black Morris Brown College. There, Georgia Congressman John Lewis walked on stage in front of a giant photo of Martin Luther King Jr. talking with President Lyndon Johnson. Lewis said the Voting Rights Act was good in 1965 and it's still good today.
Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat, Georgia): We will beat them. We were tear-gassed, we were bull-whipped, we were hurt, but we didn't give up and you must not give up 40 years later.
KOPP: Lewis joined more than a dozen other Democratic lawmakers in pledging to fight for the act's renewal in Congress. Then singer Stevie Wonder spoke. He called the purpose of the day's event ridiculous. Wonder says people should not have to keep marching for voting rights year after year.
Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Singer): Let our president sign a bill that says there'll be never a need for anyone to march again because the right of every single citizen of voting will be forever.
KOPP: Organizers say they chose Atlanta for the march because Georgia is one of the states that under the Voting Rights Act must seek federal approval before changing voting laws. A recently passed state law awaits Justice Department approval. It would require voters to show official photo identification. Most marchers oppose the law. They say it would prevent many elderly and poor from voting. They say the new law is proof the Voting Rights Act is still needed today.
For NPR News, I'm Emily Kopp in Atlanta.