“Forward together, not one step back,” was chanted several times Wednesday evening as a lively crowd gathered in front of the Lincoln County Courthouse to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and his call to bring the fight for justice home.
The night’s surprise guest and keynote speaker was Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of both the “Forward Together” and “Moral Monday” statewide movements, which began in response to legislators’ actions on issues like voting rights, public education, health care, women’s rights and unemployment benefits.
Across the state, 13 “Taking the Dream Home” rallies, in each of North Carolina’s congressional districts, took place simultaneously.
Barber, who spoke early on in the roughly two-hour local event so he could also make an appearance in Charlotte, fired up the attendees with his speech.
Following an introduction by Lincoln County NAACP Branch President Debra Williams, Barber told the crowd that, after hearing that the 10th Congressional District’s event was being organized in Lincolnton, there was “no way” he was going to miss the opportunity to stop in town before heading to Charlotte.
He touched on the demonstration’s inclusion of black and white, young and old, rich and poor, as well as a variety of faiths.
“We’re not in a moment,” he said. “We’re in a movement.”
In reference to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he called upon the crowd to continue striving for what their predecessors fought and died for.
The “dream” portion of King’s now-famous speech, an early version of which scholars say was first spoken by him in Rocky Mount, wasn’t even supposed to be a part of his address 50 years ago in Washington. However, Barber noted, he was prompted by a member of the crowd to “tell them about the dream.”
That’s something that must continue on today in the effort to make the common good the center of public policy, Barber said.
“We are children of that instruction,” he said.
Barber urged the crowd to continue to help “expose the nightmare” imposed by what he called the “most regressive state government since Jim Crow.”
He said the legislators’ “intoxication with power,” “historical amnesia” and “economically insane” actions were an attack on democracy, noting that they had also “made it easier to carry a gun than vote.” He likewise discussed their decision to deny roughly 170,000 out-of-work North Carolinians unemployment benefits, despite the state having one of the highest jobless rates in the country.
“We know there is a better way,” he said.
Those who marched half a century ago, he added, helped change the course of history and called for all people to be uplifted.
“God helped them, and God will help us,” Barber said.
He noted that it’s not about Democrat or Republican, but rather what’s right and wrong.
“It’s just right to do right,” he quipped.
In wrapping up his remarks, he encouraged the crowd to keep on persevering at home.
“It’s our time now,” he said. “ … We will never give up on the dream.”
The evening’s program also included some musical and dance performances, as well as various other speakers who touched on several of the issues the movement feels have been negatively impacted by the N.C. General Assembly, including voting rights, public education, workers’ rights, women’s rights, criminal justice and the economy.
Among those speakers were Lincoln County Democratic Party Chair Deanna McGinnis, who spoke out against the sweeping new voting law, and Diand Canipe, principal of Love Memorial Elementary School.
Canipe, who stressed that she was not speaking on behalf of Lincoln County Schools but, instead, on a personal level, lamented the budget cuts that are making it tough for teachers across the state, including a local group, all wearing red, who showed up for the rally.
“Where is our children’s money?” she asked.
Raleigh, she said, was playing party politics, which she added “has no place in education.”
NAACP representatives from counties throughout the district, many of whom proudly carried demonstration signs, made up a large portion of the crowd, which also took time to recognize a handful of “Moral Monday” arrestees who were in attendance and collect donations to go toward their legal fees.