RALEIGH — The three empty coffins carried slowly around the perimeter of the N.C. Executive Mansion on Monday were a somber reminder of the Birmingham church bombing 50 years ago that left four girls dead amid the struggle for civil rights and voting rights.
But the caskets also served as symbols of life in a political youth movement bringing together all ages in a North Carolina fight to maintain rights won nearly half a century ago.
Nearly 200 demonstrators were part of the procession that moved slowly from the First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street in downtown Raleigh to the Executive Mansion. The event, touted as the 18th Moral Monday, was led by Youth and College NAACP groups from across North Carolina.
Gov. Pat McCrory was attending a Republic Governors Association meeting in Charleston, S.C., his staff told the media, and not at the Blount Street mansion while the young and old walked the perimeter of the property.
Were going to make one circle around the governors mansion to let him know we plan to go all around this state, the Rev. William Barber II, head of the state NAACP, told the demonstrators,
On Monday, it was the youth doing most of the rallying, though.
Just because the governor is gone doesnt mean the issue is gone, said Isaiah Daniels, a Shaw University student at the event.
With brief speeches at First Baptist Church, the leaders from the college NAACP groups criticized the governor and the General Assembly for cutting teaching positions in the public schools and adopting new elections laws that some contend are designed to make it more difficult for students to vote.
By 2016, voters will be required to show IDs at the polls and student IDs were not on the list of acceptable cards.
Earlier this month, the state Board of Elections ruled on two cases that college students described as attempts by local elections board to suppress the under-30 vote and make it more difficult to participate in democracy.
Advocates of the new voting laws argue that asking for IDs at the polls is an attempt to bring North Carolina more in line with other states and ward off voter fraud, though there have been few cases reported in this state.
As the young organizers worked to raise their voices in unison across the state, Barber, the chief organizer of the demonstrations this summer outside the General Assembly chambers and the governors office, said he thought it was important to keep a national spotlight cast on North Carolina.
Ben Jealous, the president and chief executive office of the national NAACP, announced recently that he planned to step down at the end of the year.
Barber said he would be on the board that selected the next leader, but he did not plan to put his name in for the national post.
North Carolina, Barber said, is ground zero in the fight to change the nation.
This is a national movement right here in North Carolina, Barber said. My focus is right here in the South.