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NAACP focuses on voting rights

Group's state president, Savannah mayor describe work ahead during local banquet

NAACP focuses on voting rights

NAACP focuses on voting rights

Savannah Mayor Edna Branch Jackson, r...

Speaking in Statesboro, new Georgia NAACP President Dr. Francys Johnson and Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson described an NAACP which does not see everything in “black and white” and which Johnson says in 2013 is fighting for justice on fronts ranging from threatened voting rights and education to civil rights for gays and immigrants.

The occasion was the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP’s 48th annual Freedom Fund Banquet, which filled Snella’s Place on Allen Circle with more than 200 attendees Saturday. Savannah’s Jackson, 69, who has been active in the NAACP since age 9 and took part in historic civil rights protests from wade-ins on Tybee Beach to the 1963 March on Washington, was the featured speaker.

However, Johnson, 34, who took office Oct. 5 as the first NAACP Georgia State Conference president from Bulloch County, had speaking opportunities at the beginning and end of the program and was saluted by the local branch as its Man of the Year.

 “These are truly critical times and the NAACP is focused on a very serious agenda, and the cornerstone of that agenda is voting rights and the ability to elect a candidate of the people’s choice by guaranteeing access to the ballot,” said Johnson, a Statesboro attorney and pastor in addition to his new statewide NAACP duties.

A ruling by the Supreme Court in June crippled a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required certain states to preclear changes in district lines and voting procedures with the Justice Department or a federal court. The high court ruled that the formula used to determine which states this covered — which long included the Southeastern states but also originally a few others — is no longer valid.

The NAACP is petitioning Congress to reauthorize the act and add new enforcement provisions. Until that happens, Johnson said, it will be up to local branches to monitor local government actions that impact voting. North Carolina and Texas have changed election laws without preclearance, and Johnson observed that in Georgia, officials in Augusta are proposing changes to polling places.

 “Make no mistake about it here in Bulloch County,” he said. “If you try to reduce the number of polls, if you try to eliminate days of early voting, if you try to rewrite district lines in ways that will reduce the level of participation and ability of this community to elect the candidates of its choice – Augusta is playing with fire – but I guarantee you, the NAACP will file a lawsuit against you, and you will be tied up in litigation for a while, and it will not go on under my watch.”

In regard to criminal justice, Johnson said, “the quality of justice should not depend on where you are arrested in this state,” asserting that sentences for the same crimes differ dramatically between Atlanta and Statesboro. The NAACP’s agenda also includes “economic sustainability” in the form of good jobs, and affordability and access to quality education and quality health care for Americans as a people, Johnson said.

“I’m not talking about as an African-American people,” he said. “There are people always confusing the NAACP as fighting for black and white issues, but I want them to know we’re fighting for red, white and blue issues,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Johnson expounded on the NAACP’s civil rights agenda as including fair treatment for gays and immigrants. He used the initials GLBTQ, often defined as “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or queer.”

“We support civil and human rights and so that means we’ll need to form new coalitions and new partners in fighting for ideas that you don’t necessarily hold for your own,” Johnson said. “But when it comes to GLBTQ issues, the NAACP will fight for them; immigration issues, the NAACP will fight for them.”

Mayor Jackson

The NAACP is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, although the full name is seldom emphasized today. Mayor Edna Jackson greeted Bulloch NAACP members as “sisters and brothers who look like jewels in a crown, with hues of vanilla, cinnamon and dark chocolate brown.”

The crowd was predominantly African-American, but Bulloch branch officials presented plaques to a few white residents who paid dues to become lifetime members. U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., who introduced Jackson, noted that he has been a lifetime member of NAACP branches in Athens, Augusta and Savannah.

Jackson also noted that the NAACP’s founders included white liberals who, in reaction to lynchings and race riots, gathered with black leaders to charter the association in 1909. Her own history with the NAACP dates from groundbreaking days in the civil rights movement in Savannah and nationally. At 18, she trained an integrated youth task force from Tampa, Fla., and accompanied them in the 1963 March on Washington.

That same year, Jackson took part in a protest organized by Savannah NAACP leader W.W. Law against the segregation of Tybee Island’s beaches. She was arrested taken to jail, where the protestors sang localized lyrics to the tune of “Wade in the Water.”

“Wade in Tybee, wade in Tybee, wade in Tybee – brown skins wade in Tybee!” she sang Saturday to applause and laughter.

Now, Jackson announced, she will be the grand marshal in January for Tybee’s first MLK Day Parade.

Taking “Killers or Keepers of the Dream: Which are You?” as her theme, Jackson identified “killers of the dream” as including crime, failure to vote, and choices that lead to teenagers becoming single parents without completing their education. She noted that the right to vote, like other rights, was hard won.

Bulloch County NAACP Branch President Pearl Brown presented Jackson a plaque as speaker and Johnson the Man of the Year award. The annual President’s Award went to her husband, Carlos C. Brown Jr., who is NAACP area coordinator and past local president.

The branch also hailed the launch of its chapter of ACT-SO, an achievement program for high school students.

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