By Associated Press
For the AJC
ATLANTA – The Rev. Al Sharpton joined the son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the head of the organization co-founded by King in Atlanta on Thursday, claiming there is a national effort to undermine the minority voting rights won during the civil rights movement.
Sharpton’s visit to the civil rights icon’s hometown also was a preview of his scheduled march and rally next month. The rally will start in Selma, Ala., which was the scene of “Bloody Sunday,” the seminal event that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The five-day event ending in Montgomery will also feature Congressman John Lewis – who was badly beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
At a news conference at the headquarters for his organization, the National Action Network, Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Isaac Newton Farris Jr. discussed the event and their opposition to laws addressing early voting and government-issued identification as an eligibility requirement to cast a ballot – which they say are aimed at voter suppression, especially for poor and minority voters.
Sharpton said he will announce plans for his organization, the National Action Network, to pursue legal challenges to such laws in several states.
The activist and cable television show host also said Thursday that for the first time since those rights were achieved, there is an organized movement to overturn the gains of the 1960s.
“It could literally cost this election, but also others,” Sharpton said. “This could permanently undermine the minority vote, which would defeat the whole purpose of the Voting Rights Act.”
Sharpton said that like King and others during the civil rights movement, today’s activists need to bring national attention to the issue in dramatic fashion as a catalyst for change.
“Legislators should not be allowed to operate in the dark,” Sharpton said. “It’s more difficult to do evil, insidious things with the spotlight on them.”
It was an absence of national concern and awareness that cleared the way for Georgia’s voter ID law in 2006, Sharpton said. He said the law – which has been approved by the Department of Justice – was a model for other states.