ROCKINGHAM — African-Americans’ voting rights in North Carolina have been set back a half-century, NAACP leaders said as a five-state protest march wound its way through Richmond County.
America’s Journey for Justice, an 860-mile walk from Selma, Alabama to the nation’s capital, crossed the state line Saturday afternoon on U.S. 1. Marchers filed through downtown Rockingham and ended the day’s journey at Richmond Senior High School. The march through North Carolina is expected to end on Sunday.
“This is not a parade. This is a protest,” said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “Jim Crow died, but his son James Crow Esquire and his daughter Janie are still alive.”
March leaders passed the baton from South Carolina organizers to their North Carolina counterparts in an afternoon rally at New Hope United Methodist Church outside Wallace, South Carolina. The church sits just south of the state line on U.S. 1.
The national NAACP campaign centers on reforms in the criminal justice and public education systems and calls for higher working-class wages and a restoration of sections 5 and 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which a divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down in June 2013.
In North Carolina, the Journey for Justice is focused on election law changes that require voters to display photo ID cards, eliminate same-day registration and voting and reduce the number of days that county elections boards can hold one-stop early voting.
Barber called North Carolina “the state where the worst voter suppression in the country was put on the books by the most extreme state legislature in the country.”
Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Voter Information Verification Act into law in August 2013, less than two months after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder eliminated two sections of the federal Voting Rights Act that required jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination to obtain clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before implementing any election law changes.
The Rev. Dian Griffin Jackson said state lawmakers failed to show the need for voter ID when only a handful of voter fraud cases have been prosecuted across the state.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” she said. “Give us a reason. I don’t mean give me a reason as a black woman, I mean give me a reason as a North Carolinian: Why do we need to turn back the hands of time?”
Voter ID supporters say verification is needed to deter and detect fraud and ensure integrity at the ballot box. Opponents say the policy disproportionately affects minorities, the poor and college students who are historically more likely to vote Democratic.
“There can be no justice for anyone unless there is justice for everyone,” Jackson said. “That really is true, that’s not just a quote or a nice-sounding saying. There can be no justice and there can be no peace in Richmond County or any place else until there is peace for everybody.”
Voters in this fall’s municipal elections are not required to present photo ID. The requirement takes effect next year beginning with North Carolina’s 2016 presidential primaries.
During Saturday’s rally, Barber welcomed state Rep. Garland Pierce of Scotland County, to the podium. Pierce, who chairs the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus, serves on the state NAACP executive committee and is a past branch president in Laurinburg.
Participants continued their march through Richmond County on Sunday, pausing for a group photo outside the Rockingham Speedway. The Journey for Justice will reach Raleigh by midweek, and the group will hold a voting rights rally Thursday afternoon outside the state legislative complex.
“How many citizens do we have, 46,000?” she said. “And we may have 40 out here today, so that’s a long way from 46,000. Obviously we’re either not aware or we think it’s not important or we are so complacent that we do not see what is happening under our noses.
“Everything that is affecting the whole state is affecting Richmond County, so it needs to come through this county.”
Reach Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @corey_friedman.