Members and supporters of one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization marched into the state Saturday on U.S. 1 from South Carolina as they continue a “journey for justice,” an 860-mile trek that began in Selma, Ala., and will end in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15.
The NAACP marchers will pass through Raleigh on Thursday and will hold a rally downtown, near where the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee was founded on Shaw University’s campus in 1960.
The march, formally known as America’s Journey for Justice or AJ4J, is an initiative the NAACP has billed as a historic march that started Aug. 1 at the Edmund Pettus Sr. Bridge in Selma where civil rights marchers were severely beaten by police in 1965.
“Our lives, our votes, our jobs, our schools matter,” Rev. Curtis Gatewood, the North Carolina NAACP’s state coordinator for the event, said in a statement. “And we refuse to be ignored.”
The march route has included several iconic locations of the civil rights movement, starting in Montgomery, Ala., where a 1955 bus boycott that began when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger ended one year later when the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated buses unconstitutional.
The marchers also made their way to Atlanta, the headquarters of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The march, which covers 17 to 18 miles each day, stresses a different theme in each state: education inequality in Alabama, educational reform in Georgia and criminal justice reform in South Carolina.
In North Carolina, the theme is voting rights. Gatewood hopes the marchers will “demonstrate the need for justice for this generation and advance a focused national advocacy agenda that protects the rights of every American” and “uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box.”
The NAACP and others are challenging the legislature’s 2013 state election law overhaul in federal court, arguing that requiring a photo ID discriminates against African-American, Hispanic and other groups of voters.
They’re also fighting other provisions of the law, including a reduction in the number of days in the early voting period, the elimination of same-day voter registration that allowed registering and voting on the same day and the prohibition of voters casting ballots out of their assigned precincts.
“North Carolina has emerged as the ‘national battleground for voting rights,’” Gatewood said.
Shelly Walker, director of the community theater in Richmond County where the marchers entered the state, said she joined the effort because of the 2013 voting law changes.
“I wanted to lend my energy to make sure that there’s equality in the state,” Walker said Sunday afternoon.
Organizers say it will take about 10 days for the march to journey through the state.
Marchers who walked into North Carolina on Saturday traveled on N.C. 401 just south of Laurinburg and into Rockingham. From there, the marchers will follow N.C. 211 toward Raeford and then switch over to U.S. 401 where the group will travel through Fayetteville and into Raleigh, said Steve Abbott, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation. The marchers will continue along U.S. 401 through Rolesville, Louisburg and Warrenton into Virginia.
With the marchers scheduled to walk down “three often busy highways,” state transportation officials have established a safety plan for the marchers and drivers on the three roads, Abbott said.
The Richmond County marchers traveled a little more than 10 miles Sunday before arriving at a welcome center in Moore County where they were able to munch on snacks and take bathroom breaks.
About 100 people participated in the march Sunday morning starting at the old N.C. Motor Speedway. Walker was part of a slower group that was expected to walk a 20-minute mile.
“There was a faster group ahead of us walking about six miles an hour,” she said.