Dr. Charles Steele, Jr. president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), held a discussion  with local journalists last week, following his interview with Tavis Smiley on radio station KBLA.

The very beginnings of the SCLC can be traced back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in1955 after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a White man on the bus. The boycott lasted for 381 days and ended on Dec. 21, 1956, with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system.

Today the organization is working with Black Votes Matter to advance and defend voting rights.

“Black folks have lost confidence,” Steele said. “Because the Black folks we’ve got in office don’t do anything for us.”

Steele recently announced the SCLC’s 63rd Annual Convention and this year’s events will be held virtually and in person from July 21 and 22 in Atlanta, Ga. The events will begin with a prayer breakfast at Hillside International Truth Center with all subsequent events being held virtually on the SCLC convention website (www.sclcconvention.com).

“The Right to Vote — The Fight for Justice,” is the convention theme and the SCLC will focus on core issues facing us during these perilous social and political times. 

“The Right to Vote, which was taken from us with the gutting of Section 4 and Section 5 in 2013, has put the fight right back where we began” Steele has said, refering to the Voting Rights Act.

Interested persons will be able to register for the convention at www.nationalsclc.org. For more information, contact LaRita Reid at events@nationalsclc.org or at (404) 522-1420. 

Since the first SCLC boycott, which was carried out by the newly established Montgomery Improvement Association where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as president and Ralph David Abernathy served as program director, SCLC has become a nation-wide organization made up of chapters and affiliates with programs that affect the lives of all Americans: north, south, east and west. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a legislation that provides greater voting oversight, such as requiring ID for absentee voting, earlier deadlines for absentee ballots and limited drop boxes for absentee ballots where law enforcement authorities are seated next to the drop boxes.

With this law, America has retreated to the period before the Voting Rights Act was signed, said Steele.

“We have to do it all over again,” he said. “We are asking President Joe Biden to do an executive order, not on a new Voting Rights Act, but on the existing 1965 Voting Rights Act. Some members of Congress are working on a new voting rights bill. We simply need to bring back the 1965 Voting Rights Act with expansion.”

In June of 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Section 4, which designated which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court. Later that year, the court ruled against Section 5, which required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get certification in advance, or “pre-clearance,” to ensure election changes are not discriminatory.

“Now it is raining as we predicted,” Steele said. “It is raining down racism, insensitivity, and Jim Crowism, and we are going back 56 years.”

The executive order is a power tool at the president’s disposal, Steele said, noting the President, with a simple pen stroke, can restore the preclearance for the Department of Justice, which would prevent states like Georgia from denying access to the right to vote.

“The Emancipation Proclamation was the result of an executive order,” Steele said. “We would not be free today if we waited on Congress to change the law. Black people would still be slaves.”

With this call to action, Steele said the SCLC supports organizations that are calling for a boycott of Georgia until the state’s legislation is repealed.

“There should be no Major League Baseball All Star game, No Majors at the golf course in Augusta, no major event of any kind until our state provides access for all people to participate in the voting process,” Steele said. “It is time we move forward not backwards in America. This is how we become a stronger nation.”

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