Today, as we honor the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the American Civil Rights Movement, we cannot uplift his legacy without recognizing the work of the countless people who came before, during, and after his time who also demanded that America keep its promise of freedom, justice, and dignity for all.
Almost 60 years ago, Dr. King marched on Washington and led the largest civil rights gathering of its time to advocate for the civil and voting rights many of us rely on today. A movement that was built on a century’s old legacy of Black, Brown, and Indigenous freedom fighters who paved the way so that he might be able to have a dream. The contributions from Dr. King alongside the many sacrifices made by the other women and men from the movement helped establish the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and protects the right to vote for people of color, respectively. We are thankful to Dr. King’s leadership, which helped change America forever, blazing the path of healing needed to address centuries of racial inequity for Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
As one of the premiere women’s organizations in the country, we want to also acknowledge and uplift the work of Coretta Scott King. Mrs. King was not only Dr. King’s partner within the movement and in life, but an author, activist, and civil rights leader who dedicated over 40 years of service to marginalized communities and was considered one of the most influential women leaders in the world up until she passed in 2006. She was also a leader in her own right during the American Civil Rights Movement, traveling around the world to advocate for racial and economic justice, women’s empowerment, religious freedom, health care, educational opportunities, and much more. Not only did she raise four children who would go on to carry forth the work of their parents, it was due to her leadership and tireless work that Dr. King’s legacy was forever cemented into the history books when Congress originally instituted Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday. Thus, we cannot celebrate #MLKDay without acknowledging the contributions of Coretta Scott King to uplifting and carrying on his legacy.
Despite the incredible activism and sacrifice from our ancestors, gaining the rights to participate in our democracy and be protected from persecution has always been a constant fight for people of color. The legacy our foremothers and forefathers worked so hard to build continues to be threatened as voters across the country still face increasing barriers to civic engagement. Following the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder — which struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act — many states have erected barriers that disproportionately affect communities of color, the elderly, and young people.
As we launch this year’s Stand Against Racism under the theme, “We Can’t Wait: Equity & Justice Now!”, we center the fact that protecting voting rights is more essential than ever, with local and state elections set to take place throughout the year. Through Stand Against Racism, we invite partner organizations, allied groups, and advocates across the country to take a stand and draw awareness to the impact of institutional and structural racism and other racial justice issues that impact quality of life for communities of color.
As Dr. King once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and once again, our freedom to cast a vote is being threatened with injustice that should have been left behind in the Jim Crow era. To protect the voting rights our foremothers and forefathers fought and died for, Dr. Martin Luther King III instituted a MLK Day of Action to honor his father’s legacy by calling on our Members of Congress to eliminate the Jim Crow filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, which will take steps to ensure that communities of color across the country have equitable access to the ballot box. Today, YWCA USA joins activists, organizations, and allies across the country to help protect the right to vote most notably for people of color, our elders, and young people, who have been most impacted by restrictive voting legislation. Now, YWCA is doubling down on its efforts to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, which responds to the alarming attack on voting and our democracy and takes critical steps to protect against voter suppression efforts and implements national standards to ensure equal access to the ballot box.
With this mission in mind, YWCA USA was proud to introduce its legislative priorities for the 117th Congress, 2nd Session in early January 2022. Informed by our rich 160-year history and by the expertise of our nationwide network, YWCA continues to drive an inclusive legislative agenda and provide practical solutions to federal elected officials to address issues affecting women, girls, and communities of color we serve. Yet, at the heart of this legislation remains the preservation of the right for all eligible voters to vote and removing barriers for marginalized communities to have a voice in the issues that most impact them.
Coretta Scott King once said, “the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” Today, we are asking you as a part of our community: will you honor the King family’s legacy by taking action to demand justice, peace, and dignity for all? Will you join us by calling on your representatives to end the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act?