Analysis: What Martin Luther King Jr. said about voting rights and why celebration without legislation dishonors his legacy

More than six decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the fundamental importance of voting rights. His family continues that fight today.

Why Celebration Of Mlk Day Without Legislation Defangs The Civil Rights Leader's Legacy - Cnnpoliti

1/17/2022 8:15:00 PM

Martin Luther King Jr.'s family has a message for Democratic lawmakers who refuse to stop their Republican counterparts' voter suppression efforts -- yet intend to shower pious praise on the slain civil rights leader's legacy this holiday weekend.

More than six decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the fundamental importance of voting rights. His family continues that fight today.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s family has a message for Democratic lawmakers who refuse to stop their Republican counterparts' voter suppression efforts yet intend to shower pious praise on the slain civil rights leader's legacy this holiday weekend: Save it.King's son and the members of more than 80 grassroots organizations recently stressed that there ought to be"no celebration without legislation."Their statement arrives at a time when racial justice activists are intensifying their calls for President Joe Biden to demand that Senate Democrats alter the chamber's rules and pass voting rights legislation -- before the GOP makes it impossible to have fair elections."President Biden and Congress used their political muscle to deliver a vital infrastructure deal," Martin Luther King III said."And now we are calling on them to do the same to restore the very voting rights protections my father and countless other civil rights leaders bled to secure."Read More'Give us the ballot'More than six decades ago, his father spoke about the fundamental importance of the right to vote."So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself," King Jr. said in his"Give Us the Ballot" speech in May 1957."I cannot make up my mind -- it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact -- I can only submit to the edict of others."Organizers had gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, for the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom -- which drew nearly 25,000 supporters -- to push lawmakers to uphold the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.King Jr. was the last to speak. But his words to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Congress were powerful.President Joe Biden speaks about the constitutional right to vote at the Atlanta University Center Consortium in Georgia."The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the President of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote," King Jr. said.The crowd responded,"Yes."King Jr. went on to say,"Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights. Give us the ballot, and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law. We will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence."The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first federal civil rights legislation passed since Reconstruction, authorized the government to take legal measures to prevent citizens from being denied voting rights. But it wouldn't be until 1965 that Congress would pass the Voting Rights Act.In March of that year, during a voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, that came to be known as"Bloody Sunday," White state troopers brutally assaulted 600-some protesters. President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act that same month, when the outrage over what happened to protesters in Selma was"still fresh"; Congress passed the bill in August.Though King Jr. called the law"a great step forward in removing all of the remaining obstacles to the right to vote," fear and voter intimidation tactics persisted in some jurisdictions.Today, his family and other civil rights leaders continue a battle many thought American voters had won."Like those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, we will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father's dream for a more equal and just America," Martin Luther King III said.He repeated these sentiments last Tuesday, saying to CNN,"We will not be satisfied -- any of us, in a number of communities -- until we have the John Lewis bill as well as the Freedom to Vote bill passed."Bernice King echoed some of her brother's comments and emphasized the importance of celebration. She underscored in December that one of the best ways to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- which the Reagan administration initially opposed and hoped to turn into a monument to"colorblindness" -- is to legislate like democracy is at stake. Because it is, as scholars have attested.She said that if voting rights are"still hanging in the balance" by MLK Day, Americans must"speak and act in a way to ensure that this nation lives up to its promise of democracy by putting pressure on our US Senate to bypass the filibuster."A stalled voting rights agendaLawmakers in at least 19 states passed 34 laws between January 1 and December 7 of last year that make it harder for people, especially Black Americans and other people of color, to vote, per New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice. These laws limit absentee ballots and impose additional ID requirements, among other things.And yet, despite such obvious political machinations, Democratic lawmakers have failed to pass legislation that might protect the sanctity of the ballot box.In the 50-50 US Senate, Republicans have choked off two Democratic-sponsored bills: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Democrats don't have the 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster and advance most legislation, a situation that's led progressive Democrats and activists to call for the elimination of a tool that's long been used to thwart racial equality.But Democrats don't have the votes required to end or reform the filibuster, either. Further, they face obstruction within their party. Apparently unmoved by the erosion of US democracy, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have said, repeatedly, that they have no interest in changing the filibuster. .voting-rights-timeline { width:100%; display:block; margin:0 auto 20px; } @media screen and (min-width: 640px) { .voting-rights-timeline { float:left; width:50%; max-width: 300px; display:block; margin:0 40px 20px 0; line-height:21px; border:1px solid #ccc; } .voting-rights-timeline a { color:#3061f3; } .voting-rights-timeline p { padding:7px; margin:0px; } .voting-rights-timeline span { font-weight:500; color:black; } } Interactive: America's long history of Black voter suppression

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The GOP LEADER SHOWED HE DIDN’T CARE ABOUT EQUALITY, and the GOP FOLLOWED HIS LEAD! Breaking with his predecessors, Trump skips community service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, spends time on his golf course . Why does the MLK family support the Democratic Marxist/Communist Party when those are the people who have been the oppressors of Blacks that MLK was fighting against. MLK wasn’t against America he was Anti Racist which the Democrats are using against our Constitutional Democracy.

Showing themselves to be powerless. A group of senators which is democratic that seems to have no power when it come to vote or legislation. Speaker of the House close to send it down to everybody come into agreement and give the power to the president. Äääää Gee that's funny I saw a member of his family (a niece) being interviewed earlier today who said we need to get beyond all the divisive rhetoric about so-called voter suppression. And she's right. I'ts nothing but a false narrative of Democratic party and their media allies.

Despicable spin . Democrats are doing everything possible to pass Voting Rights. They can't exactly hog-tie and force the immoral Republicans to do the same. we had record turnout last election cycle. 🤔 how are their votes suppressed? They don't have mailboxes? Noticed pundits+politicians who arrogantly opine POTUS’ 'tone' calling out the implicit racism in anti-Voter laws+resistance to strong Voter Rights look like people in no danger of THEIR Right to Vote stolen. Implicit “You (people of color) need 2 ask me nicely if you can vote”

Why do you keep giving Trump the one thing he wants? Attention. Stop showing anything he does. You aren’t helping! NO CELEBRATION WITHOUT LEGISLATION!!!

Family of Martin Luther King Jr. lead D.C. march for right to voteDescendants of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and their supporters began marching on Washington on Monday to urge President Joe Biden's Democrats to pass a bill protecting voting rights.

Weekend? It's Monday. Do they have anything to say about ballot harvesting and voter fraud ? On MLKDay , memorializing the GREATEST Civil Rights leader in🇺🇸history, we must remember the far right-stuffed SCOTUS recently gutted the 1965 Civil Rights Act. And the JimCrow2.0 GOP is pulling out every form of VOTER SUPPRESSION, SUBVERSION & FRAUD‼️

What I as non American don’t understand is why black people believe in MLK sr but also vote Republican. If every black American would support Dems, the dream of MLK would become nearer.

Will stocks trade on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?Markets will pause on Monday to recognize the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. No

We Still Need Martin Luther King Jr.’s Aspirational Patriotism'We need King’s teachings more than ever in this divided and dangerous America of 2022,' writes ed_kilgore ed_kilgore Marine Corps Sgt drill instructor said “we finally got that nier, Martin Luther King Jr. is dead”. I have been fighting this issue of changing my discharge for over 53 years. Racism is alive in America and in the Marine Corps. ed_kilgore ed_kilgore On This day you chose to write a piece about a racist abuser justifying his actions. You gave them a voice. Can’t wait for your next ariticle where you take pics of the kkk leader posing while justifying his actions.. this is pathetic

The 5 Best Documentaries to Watch This Martin Luther King Jr. DayToday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the U.S., here are 5 documentaries to watch. Happy James Earl Ray day. ❤❤ A true man we can't forget or ignore...rest on well.

Here are the Martin Luther King Jr. words that inspire today's social justice leadersMore than a half a century has passed since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial calling for freedom and equality -- and the fight for social justice appears to be far from over.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Chicago protest pushes for national voting rights legislationOn Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Chicago, leaders protested to pressure lawmakers to pass national voting rights legislation. ❤🖤💚 We should all strive for fair and transparent voting which to be fair, should only include eligible voters. Good!! Im so glad this is going on here in Chicago on a sunny day!

Washington (CNN)A version of this story appeared in CNN's Race Deconstructed newsletter. To get it in your inbox every week, sign up for free here. Martin Luther King Jr.'s family has a message for Democratic lawmakers who refuse to stop their Republican counterparts' voter suppression efforts yet intend to shower pious praise on the slain civil rights leader's legacy this holiday weekend: Save it.King's son and the members of more than 80 grassroots organizations recently stressed that there ought to be"no celebration without legislation."Their statement arrives at a time when racial justice activists are intensifying their calls for President Joe Biden to demand that Senate Democrats alter the chamber's rules and pass voting rights legislation -- before the GOP makes it impossible to have fair elections."President Biden and Congress used their political muscle to deliver a vital infrastructure deal," Martin Luther King III said."And now we are calling on them to do the same to restore the very voting rights protections my father and countless other civil rights leaders bled to secure."Read More'Give us the ballot'More than six decades ago, his father spoke about the fundamental importance of the right to vote."So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself," King Jr. said in his"Give Us the Ballot" speech in May 1957."I cannot make up my mind -- it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact -- I can only submit to the edict of others."Organizers had gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, for the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom -- which drew nearly 25,000 supporters -- to push lawmakers to uphold the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.King Jr. was the last to speak. But his words to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Congress were powerful.President Joe Biden speaks about the constitutional right to vote at the Atlanta University Center Consortium in Georgia."The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the President of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote," King Jr. said.The crowd responded,"Yes."King Jr. went on to say,"Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights. Give us the ballot, and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law. We will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence."The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first federal civil rights legislation passed since Reconstruction, authorized the government to take legal measures to prevent citizens from being denied voting rights. But it wouldn't be until 1965 that Congress would pass the Voting Rights Act.In March of that year, during a voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, that came to be known as"Bloody Sunday," White state troopers brutally assaulted 600-some protesters. President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act that same month, when the outrage over what happened to protesters in Selma was"still fresh"; Congress passed the bill in August.Though King Jr. called the law"a great step forward in removing all of the remaining obstacles to the right to vote," fear and voter intimidation tactics persisted in some jurisdictions.Today, his family and other civil rights leaders continue a battle many thought American voters had won."Like those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, we will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father's dream for a more equal and just America," Martin Luther King III said.He repeated these sentiments last Tuesday, saying to CNN,"We will not be satisfied -- any of us, in a number of communities -- until we have the John Lewis bill as well as the Freedom to Vote bill passed."Bernice King echoed some of her brother's comments and emphasized the importance of celebration. She underscored in December that one of the best ways to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- which the Reagan administration initially opposed and hoped to turn into a monument to"colorblindness" -- is to legislate like democracy is at stake. Because it is, as scholars have attested.She said that if voting rights are"still hanging in the balance" by MLK Day, Americans must"speak and act in a way to ensure that this nation lives up to its promise of democracy by putting pressure on our US Senate to bypass the filibuster."A stalled voting rights agendaLawmakers in at least 19 states passed 34 laws between January 1 and December 7 of last year that make it harder for people, especially Black Americans and other people of color, to vote, per New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice. These laws limit absentee ballots and impose additional ID requirements, among other things.And yet, despite such obvious political machinations, Democratic lawmakers have failed to pass legislation that might protect the sanctity of the ballot box.In the 50-50 US Senate, Republicans have choked off two Democratic-sponsored bills: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Democrats don't have the 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster and advance most legislation, a situation that's led progressive Democrats and activists to call for the elimination of a tool that's long been used to thwart racial equality.But Democrats don't have the votes required to end or reform the filibuster, either. Further, they face obstruction within their party. Apparently unmoved by the erosion of US democracy, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have said, repeatedly, that they have no interest in changing the filibuster. .voting-rights-timeline { width:100%; display:block; margin:0 auto 20px; } @media screen and (min-width: 640px) { .voting-rights-timeline { float:left; width:50%; max-width: 300px; display:block; margin:0 40px 20px 0; line-height:21px; border:1px solid #ccc; } .voting-rights-timeline a { color:#3061f3; } .voting-rights-timeline p { padding:7px; margin:0px; } .voting-rights-timeline span { font-weight:500; color:black; } } Interactive: America's long history of Black voter suppression Their stubbornness allows"41 GOP senators representing just 21% of the country to block any effort to protect voting rights," as Mother Jones's Ari Berman recently put it.(Notably, Manchin and Sinema's intransigence calls to mind Martin Luther King Jr.'s withering observation that"the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens' Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the White moderate who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice.")Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last Thursday that the Senate will take up voting rights legislation on Tuesday. Even so, voting rights advocates have made plain their frustrations with Democratic leaders, many of whom have moved at a glacial pace to protect the rights of the constituents who in 2020 and 2021 delivered wins to the one major party not committed to assaulting multiracial democracy.This bone-deep exasperation propelled a number of civil rights groups -- including the New Georgia Project, the Black Voters Matter Action Fund and the Asian American Advocacy Fund -- to boycott Biden's speech last Tuesday in Atlanta, where the President put his support behind"changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking actions on voting rights.""We don't need another speech. What we need is a plan," Cliff Albright, the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, told reporters last Monday.LaTosha Brown, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, put it a little bit more bluntly."We're way beyond speeches. At this point, I'm looking for a strategy, and I'm looking for a commitment that he (Biden) is going to get this passed," Brown told CNN last Monday, referring to voting rights legislation."White voters get priority. Black voters get promises."A never-ending assaultNot only do Black voters get empty promises. They also get airy exhortations to vote harder.In a letter published last Sunday as an ad in the New York Times, Michelle Obama made a plea to Americans,"We've got to vote like the future of our democracy depends on it."She added,"Generations of Americans have persevered through poll taxes, literacy tests and laws designed to strip away their power -- and they've done it by organizing, by protesting and most importantly, by overcoming the barriers in front of them in order to vote. And now, we've got to do the same."Obama acknowledged Republican lawmakers' campaign to limit voting access. But her attention was largely on voter mobilization; in important ways, that focus seemed to ignore racial justice activists' frustrations with Democratic leaders and their allies for overplaying organizing.Martin Luther King III, Arndrea King and Marc Morial discuss voting rights."I have heard an emphasis on organizing," Sherrilyn A. Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the New York Times last year."We cannot litigate our way out of this, and we cannot organize our way out of this."Even a brief look at history illuminates how previous restrictions on the franchise were surmounted not through eagerness but through legislative action. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870 as the final of the three Reconstruction Amendments, prohibits states from taking away the right to vote"on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude." And the Voting Rights Act, signed into law in 1965 at the height of the midcentury Black freedom struggle, protects against racial discrimination in voting.Of course, these hard-won protections are now in jeopardy, thanks to a political party intent on insulating itself from the will of the people and a US Supreme Court whose conservative justices have an appetite for narrowing voting rights.This grim political landscape has pushed concerned Americans to put greater pressure on Biden, Senate Democrats and their allies to be more aggressive in their efforts to safeguard the ballot box."If he is saying the next seven days is going to be historic and critical, he's got to fully lean in after he gives the speech, having the kinds of meetings, finding out from Manchin what exactly it's going to take, and being very direct and forceful -- just as forceful as he has been on infrastructure and on some other issues," Albright told CNN last Tuesday.He added,"There's no sense in having 40 years of Senate experience only to tell us that you can't whip two votes."