Free At Last
Local rally recalls historic March on Washington
Lenoir native Louise Lash’s grandmother worked as a maid but was not allowed to enter the front door at the home of the white family she worked for.
Lash, a mother of two, believes African Americans have come a long way since those days, but that regressive legislation is now flowing from the North Carolina General Assembly, threatening much of what has been gained.
“The African American race has taken the biggest blow in the jobs market, having the highest unemployment rate, but we must continue to fight for our dreams,” she declared. “We would not have the jobs we have if teachers would not have educated us. (We should) give them the respect and money they deserve.”
On the 50th anniversary of the famous March on Washington, Lash, an occupational therapy assistant, and her 14-year-old daughter Brianna joined local residents and community leaders in sounding off about the abundance of social injustices that they say still plague North Carolina today.
Lash said she felt it was important for her daughter, a freshman at West Forsyth, to be aware of the changes that are taking place across the state, and the struggles that she may someday face as a result.
“I wanted her to be here to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with me, and then I wanted her to just kind of see what’s going on in the world now, so that going forth in her life, she can make a difference,” Lash said. “…I just tell both my daughters to keep on fighting; never give up.”
Attendees at the Aug. 28 “Taking the Dream Home” rally at Corpening Plaza heard from a parade of speakers from a broad-based spectrum of organizations that joined forces with the NAACP in hosting the rally, one of 13 rallies that were staged simultaneously across the state as part of the Forward Together Movement. The Twin City event was flushed with ardent speeches, chanting and musical interludes.
“We want you to know what is happening in the legislature,” Democracy North Carolina’s Linda Sutton told the crowd. “It’s going to hurt you, it’s going to hurt your family members, it’s going to hurt the poor, the elderly — you name it. We cannot stand for that, and that’s why we want Winston-Salem to be knowledgeable here today. We’ve got to take action and fight, on behalf of ourselves and those who are less fortunate.”
Ann Petitjean, head of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, spoke on behalf of teachers, railing against widespread cuts to public education that have been made under the state’s most recent budget.
“My colleagues have endured bashings, loss of rights, loss of wages, loss of jobs,” Petitjean said. “…We need you to stand behind the great equalizer, public education. This is our state, these are our legislators, and we must show them the way. Forward together?”
“Not one step back!” the crowd thundered in response.
Community activist Sharee Fowler spoke out against House Bill 74, a regulatory reform bill that she says weakens environmental and public health protections and threatens workers’ rights. She implored those present to help fight for workers’ rights.
“We must stand together because we are bound together,” she said. “We must stand together so that we are not left standing alone.”
Dr. Richard Lord, a family physician with the Wake Forest Baptist Health network, spoke about the state’s rejection of federal funding for thousands of uninsured patients who could’ve received health care under the Affordable Care Act. The healthcare system as a whole is in desperate need of reform, the WFU School of Medicine alumnus said.
“Currently, we’re the wealthiest nation, but the only one (of the developed nations) that does not provide universal healthcare for our citizens,” Lord said, noting that Forsyth County’s infant mortality rates are higher than those of some third world countries. “We spend twice as much on healthcare than any other nation, and yet our healthcare statistics are worse (than) any other developed nation in the world.”
Immigration reform, the slashing of unemployment benefits, marriage equality, women’s rights and voting rights were also among the issues tackled by speakers during the rally.
NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber II addressed the Winston-Salem contingent via audio recording, delivering an eloquent warning to lawmakers and impassioned charge to his allies in the Forward Together Movement to keep demanding justice.
“It’s our time to stand up, it’s our time to say no to injustice … we declare before God to this state and before America that when it comes to our rights, ordained by God and guaranteed by the Constitution, we will never lose our faith and we will never, ever, ever turn back,” Barber roared. “It would have been better for them to leave us alone, but we are awake now, and North Carolina, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”