As the nation prepares to celebrate the 58th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream" speech and the 1963 March on Washington, Dr. Bernice King says pressure must be put on the Biden administration to get federal voting rights legislation passed.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill aimed at protecting the right to vote. Named for the late congressman and civil rights icon from Atlanta, the legislation moved forward along party lines this week and is expected to have an uphill battle in the evenly-divided Senate.
The CEO of the King Center tells Audacy Atlanta's Maria Boynton "I'm suggesting that we put the pressure where the pressure is needed." In-that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were both members of the Senate, King says "both of them know these senators collectively." King adds, "right now all of our energies must be focused on pressuring this administration to use everything within their wheel house, their influence, their gifts of negotiation."
Various civil rights organizations have filed lawsuits over new state laws that restrict voting access. Georgia is among Republican-led states that have put laws in place designed to make it more difficult to vote.
According to King "The people on the ground are doing all they can do, that means we've got to put pressure on the Senate and on the administration."
Dr. Bernice King: We will not win this battle by drawing a line in the sand
The youngest of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s four children says while the actions of Republicans opposed to advancing voting rights seem oppressive, "If you continue to label them as the oppressor, they will remain the oppressor." She adds, "If you don't have the mindset that these are members of our human family who are misguided, misdirected, then you won't spend the energy that it takes to win them over."
King says the battle won't be won by "drawing a line in the sand and dividing ourselves." In the Senate "We need them" says King referring to the Republicans, "we need at least 12 at this point to push forward the For the Justice Act and the John Lewis Act."
As for the possibility that the legislation will never be signed, King pulls from the 'the darkest hour is always before the dawn' teachings of her mother and the 'David defeating Goliath' moments during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. "It will happen. I can't say when it's going to happen" says King, "but it will happen as long as we continue to keep the pressure where it needs to be."
August 28, 1963: It was a very exciting day, a long day
Dr. Bernice King says August 28, 1963, was a day filled with mixed emotions. Her father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., her mother Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and hundreds of thousands participated in the March on Washington and gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to hear his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech.
The day began with plenty of uncertainty. King says her father and mother felt it would be great if 25,000 participated. They had great anticipation but a little skepticism about the turnout.
After they'd left the hotel and started moving toward the mall area to prepare for the march, King notes there was a lot of sexism during The Movement, the men were separated from the women unfortunately. Her father and mother reconnected once they got to the Lincoln Memorial.
It was the early quiet that heightened concerns about possible violence. There wasn't any.
Everything was shut down in Washington D.C. According to King "The march was being directed by a nonviolent leader and many people respected that and followed that protocol for marches and demonstrations."
"The beauty was", according to King, "it was a mixed crowd. It wasn't 100 percent black." The rest she says were white and a sprinkling of other races and ethnicities.
King Center to unveil Blank Slate Monument
The unveiling of a new interactive Black History monument at the King Center in Atlanta will be the highlight of a weekend of events commemorating the 58th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
King says the Blank Slate: Hope For a New America sculpture, by acclaimed Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, pays tribute to African American History and the ongoing fight for racial justice and engages audiences in dialogue on hope and healing.
Dr. King says the unveiling ceremony Friday morning will kick-off commemorative marches being held Saturday, August 28th in key U.S. cities including Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Phoenix and Washington, DC. The 2021 marches will focus on voters’ rights, voter education and registration.
The virtual Beloved Community Talks: Don't Stop: March on For Justice conversation is being held Thursday, August 26th and will feature Dr. King and Ambassador Andrew Young as part of a panel discussing the impact of the March on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech. The virtual Beloved Community Talks: Empowering the Voter and Protecting the Rights conversation is being held Friday, August 27th and will include panelists U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, and voting rights advocates Latosha Brown, Co-founder of Black Voters Matter, and Helen Butler, CEO of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda. The March ON for Voting Rights kicks off Saturday, August 28th from Ebenezer Baptist Church and will travel to Centennial Olympic Park.
Watch the full interview with Dr. Bernice King below.