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Duluth Human Rights Officer's View: On MLK Day, continue his struggle for the right to vote

From the column: "The airwaves will be filled this weekend with Dr. King's “I Have a Dream” speech, but I want to challenge us to get familiar with his “Give Us the Ballot” speech, delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957."

MLK editorial cartoon
Joe Heller
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What a difference a year makes. Or does it?

A year ago, we all witnessed the violent act of domestic terrorism with the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. For the first time in American history, there was not a peaceful transfer of power.

Democracy lives and thrives in all of us. We are in a great fight for the future of American democracy. Make no mistake that our sacred democratic principles are on the line right now.

Events that have unfolded over the last year point to the need for all of us to come together as a community and as a people, to have more conversations that lead us to talk with each other and not at each other.

One person. One voter.

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Equal rights under the law.

I was taught about the importance of voting in school and, more closely, by my parents.

My mother taught me through church. I remember her stopping the car in the driveway one Sunday morning and running back in the house to grab her button. That Sunday the pastor asked for everyone in the congregation who voted to stand up and show their buttons. This was met with thunderous applause and many “Amens!” that shook the foundation of Gethsemane Baptist Church. The pastor said, “These same hands that used to pick cotton can now pick the president of the United States.” The stories of Fannie Lou Hamer and the many who lost their lives for the right to vote was not lost on us that day.

My father, a proud high school graduate and a veteran, taught me in the garage. He had an old Craftsman toolbox that he decorated with his “I Voted” stickers. I asked him why, and he said, “Son, voting is a tool, and just like with tools, sometimes you need the right one to fix things, and sometimes you need the right tool to replace things. But you’ve got to know which tool to use to get the job done. Voting for me is that tool. Never be without your tools, Son!”

The opportunity for my family to vote came from the direct actions that began one year before I was born in the summer of 1964 in Mississippi. That summer was filled with shootings, bombings, and burned churches throughout the South, as many tried to stop the vote. On March 25, 1965, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. vowed to continue fighting for the right to vote. Less than five months later, on Aug. 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act became law.

As we remember the life and legacy of Dr. King in 2022, his words still resonate. Shamefully, we have not passed the John Lewis Voters Rights Act. As we remember Dr. King this weekend, we cannot rest. For Monday’s holiday, have conversations with the ones you love about the importance of voting and to never be without your tools. Stand up for justice and know that the next big change always starts out small.

The airwaves will be filled this weekend with Dr. King's “I Have a Dream” speech, but I want to challenge us to get familiar with his “Give Us the Ballot” speech, delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957.

Join me in remembering Dr. King. Reflect on what role we all can play in building a beloved community. The threat of old has been renewed and extending this work is urgent! Let us remember the words of Dr. King, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

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Carl Crawford is the city of Duluth Human Rights Officer. He wrote this at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page.

Carl Crawford
Carl Crawford

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