Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions African-Americans have made to our nation and our state, and, for me, a time to reflect on the work I can do to continue their legacy.
This was at the forefront of my mind last March when I served as a co-leader of the Faith and Politics Institute’s 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage in Alabama. I will never forget the emotion I felt when Kevin Murphy, the current police chief of Montgomery, gave Congressman John Lewis a personal apology on behalf of the Montgomery Police Department for their failure to protect the Freedom Riders in 1961.
But even before the Freedom Riders made their way across Alabama, the Greensboro Four walked into Woolworth’s and changed the course of history for our state and country. This year, we begin Black History Month with a heavy heart after the recent passing of Franklin McCain, a member of the Greensboro Four. In 1960, along with his classmates, Franklin sat at a counter where he was not welcome, sparking the beginning of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called ‘the rebirth of the civil rights movement.’ The Greensboro Four taught us all about justice, inclusion, community and equality, and it was my honor to ensure that they were recognized by the Senate in a resolution celebrating Black History Month.
Unfortunately, challenges remain. In the past year, the progress that our civil rights leaders fought for so passionately has been eroded at both the federal and state levels. I was deeply discouraged last summer when the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965 to prevent racially discriminatory voting practices by states and counties. While our country has come a long way since this landmark law was enacted, injustice still exists and still threatens the rights of minority voters.
After this unfortunate Supreme Court ruling, the General Assembly in North Carolina swiftly passed voting legislation making a number of troubling changes to our electoral system. I am deeply concerned that this new law will restrict the ability of minorities, seniors, students, the disabled, and low and middle-income citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
After it was signed by Governor McCrory, I urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately review the law and take all appropriate steps to protect federal civil rights and the fundamental right to vote, and I applauded the Justice Department’s decision to challenge the law a few weeks later. Giving North Carolinians fewer opportunities to make their voices heard while giving corporations more opportunities to influence elections is simply not in line with North Carolina values. I hope we can make progress this year to eliminate barriers to participation in the democratic process.
As I continue working on these important issues, both during Black History Month and throughout the year, the memories of that three-day Pilgrimage through important milestones in the civil rights movement helps me to reflect on all we have accomplished in our state and motivates me to continue fighting against all forms of discrimination to make our state a better place.
month, I encourage all North Carolinians to not only reflect on the work of leaders like Dr. King, Congressman Lewis and Franklin McCain to make our state and nation stronger, but also to continue their legacy by fighting for equality and an end to discrimination.
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008, Kay Hagan is seeking a second term this year.