Members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s family joined protesters in Washington on Monday, urging Congress to adopt the suffrage reform as the United States celebrated the holiday in memory of the slain civil rights leader.
King Martin’s son Martin Luther King III spoke at the march, warning that many states “have passed laws that make it harder to vote” more than half a century after his father’s activism.
The march’s message was aimed at strengthening support for the Freedom to Vote Act, which is currently being considered in the Senate, and which was adopted in the House of Representatives last week.
But the bill faces an uphill battle as President Joe Biden negotiates with two senators in his own Democratic party to change a procedural rule that would allow Congress to pass the law without Republican support.
Biden argues that the bill is crucial to protecting American democracy from Republican attempts to exclude blacks and other predominantly democratic voters through a series of recently enacted laws at the state and local levels.
Marchers at Monday’s Peace Walk echoed demands from MLK more than 60 years ago when they chanted: “What do we want? Voting rights! When do we want it? Now!”
Many carried posters printed with King’s image and his famous 1957 appeal “Give Us the Vote,” which called on the federal government to uphold the right of black Americans to vote throughout the country, including in the highly segregated South.
“We are marching because our suffrage is under attack right now,” Pastor Wendy Hamilton told AFP during the demonstration.
“In fact, our democracy is very fragile,” said Hamilton, a local politician in Washington whose citizens themselves do not have full representation in Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such as Terri Sewell of Alabama and President Joyce Beatty of Ohio, also spoke at the march – as did King’s 13-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King.
King’s daughter Bernice King also took to the social media platform to urge the Senate to approve the voting reform.
“If these state suffrage laws pass, the America my father dreamed of will never come into being,” she wrote.
Approve Voting Legislation, @SenatorSinema.
In the United States, it is among the most authentic ways to honor my father.
If these state-suppressing laws exist, the America my father dreamed of will never come into being.
Be a vessel for right. #MLKDay https://t.co/E6uZQ4QfCn
– Be A King (@BerniceKing) January 17, 2022 In the White House, Vice President Kamala Harris called on senators to pass the Freedom to Vote Act to honor King’s legacy.
King “pushed for racial justice, for economic justice and for the freedom that unlocks everyone else: the freedom to vote,” she said.
She condemned bills that are under consideration or have already been passed in the state legislature that she said could make it harder for 55 million Americans to vote.
“To truly honor the legacy of the man we celebrate today, we must continue to fight for the freedom to vote, for freedom for all,” Harris said.
Last week, Biden and Harris visited the crypt where King – who was murdered in 1968 at the age of 39 – and his wife, Coretta Scott King, are buried in Atlanta.