On Aug. 28, 1963, over 200,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to march for economic rights and equality. This is where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
To honor the holiday dedicated to his legacy, the Ogden branch of the NAACP organized a Unity March for Voting Rights on Jan. 17.
“Ogden is one of the more diverse communities in Utah, and we have such a rich history around diversity,” Betty Sawyer, the president of the NAACP Ogden branch, said. “It’s important that we build upon that and honor that and use Dr. King’s legacy to work toward making Ogden an even better place.”
The march began at the Marshall White Center and consisted of a half-mile walk to the Ogden Amphitheater.
Over 100 people of all ages and backgrounds were present, from children holding cardboard signs to elected officials Sandra Hollins and Rosemary Lesser. Weber State University President Brad Mortensen also attended.
The amphitheater held a series of guest speakers to honor King and encourage support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
This proposed legislation follows the U.S. Supreme Court case decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which found section four of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. The court stated that section four imposes burdens that are no longer applicable to the current conditions of the country.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act addresses this landmark decision and proposes restoring the provisions of the original Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“I think that one of the challenges that we’ve seen is the fact that we have 19 states passing voter suppression laws, and Utah is not exempt from that,” Sawyer said. “We need to have something that we can all stand for wherever we live or wherever we go.”
Terri Hughes, the president of the Weber State chapter of NAACP, led the march alongside Sawyer. Hughes is a newly appointed member of the National Youth Works Committee within the NAACP. As a staff member, Hughes will be a voice on a national platform for smaller, but diverse communities like Ogden.
“If we want to make things equitable in our country, but especially in Ogden, people have to be aware,” Hughes said. “You can’t really make a difference if people don’t know what they’re making a difference about.”
Among the speakers was Steven Richardson, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek letter fraternity created for and operated by African American men.
Richardson called upon members of Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, saying, “You must not withhold good from those to whom good is due. I venture to say that good is due to every individual who voted you into office.”
Following the guest speakers was a service project titled “Warm Hearts & Soles,” sponsored by The Molina Foundation and Operation Warm. Over 300 coats, 55 pairs of shoes and 52 packages of diapers were donated to families in need.
These events were in partnership with Project Success Coalition, Ogden City Marshall White Center, Black Scholars United and Weber State University NAACP Y&C.
For more information on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Ogden chapter of the NAACP, see https://naacpogden.org.