According to the NAACP's Rev. William Barber, it was just the beginning.
Between 80,000 to 100,000 people who live in North Carolina and around the nation rallied in Raleigh on Saturday for the Moral March – the largest civil rights rally in the South since the historic Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 to support the Voting Rights Act. Just 15,000 turned out a year ago for a similar event.
“We have come to say to the extremists, who ignore the common good and have chosen the low road, your actions have worked in reverse,” said Rev. William Barber II, the state's NAACP president and leader of the Moral Monday movement in his keynote speech. “You may have thought you were going to discourage us, but instead you have encouraged us. The more you push us back, the more we will fight to go forward. The more you try to oppress us, the more you will inspire us.”
Generations of people of different ethnic, religious, educational and economic backgrounds marched, cheered and sang their way from the historic Shaw University, where the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was founded, to the North Carolina State Capitol. Their causes were many — from education and a minimum wage hike to women's reproductive and voting rights.
The event, declared Barber, aimed to "inaugurate a fresh year of grassroots empowerment, voter education, litigation and nonviolent direct action."
He also called for North Carolina to conduct North Carolina Moral Freedom Summer much like Mississippi's historic Freedom Summer 50 years ago.
"We are here to stay," Barber said. "We have not, and will not, give up on getting to higher ground, on building a better North Carolina, a better South and a better America. We are going to move this state forward together, and we refuse to take one step back."
Local Republicans, seeking to depict the march as "anything but moral," as North Carolina Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald put it, seized on the opportunity to attack the organizations that put together the event for urging participants to bring photo ID, given their opposition to voter ID laws.
Barber said the reaction was "ridiculous, but typical" and that asking people to bring identification was merely practical.
"Throughout the North Carolina NAACP’s long history of peaceful, nonviolent direct action, people who are opposed to our principles have often challenged our demonstrations with violence and other disruptions," he said in a statement. "To prepare participants, we have always recommended various security measures, including looking out for the elderly, remaining calm in the face of any altercation, and bringing a photo ID for safety reasons."
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(Photo: Courtesy of The Advancement Project)