WASHINGTON – When Sheila J. Bell, 58, reached the top step of the Lincoln Memorial, her feet hurt. There’s a good reason – she had just finished a 45-day march of 1,000 miles from Selma, Ala.
She is one of the few marchers who walked the entire distance of the NAACP’s Journey for Justice.
Bell, a data analyst from Detroit, led the march holding the American Flag closely.
“There’s a spiritual connection we obtained being together,” Bell said.
The trek from Selma to Washington started Aug. 1 and culminated Tuesday, as hundreds of activists from the Washington area joined them outside Arlington National Cemetery and marched across the bridge to the memorial. They chanted “from Selma to Washington, D.C.”
Bell remembered people bringing her water and making signs that read “welcome.” Others came out to thank the group for marching.
Cornell W. Brooks, NAACP president, said the march finale is only the start.
“We’re not here to march as exercise. We’ve come nearly 1,000 miles because we are marching to demonstrate, demonstrating to educate, educating to ultimately legislate, and that means fixing a badly broken Voting Rights Act,” Brooks said.
He said revised voter ID laws are harming the American government.
Recent state laws and a 2013 Supreme Court decision have made it harder for some people to vote and to challenge changes in the law. Sponsors of the laws say they protect the vote by ensuring only eligible U.S. citizens cast a ballot.
“We’re not waiting until 2016. We’re not kicking the can down the road. We’re here to meet with our federal legislators, to go door to door with Congress, and secure the right to vote,” Brooks said.
Among the marchers was Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is running for president. He met the marchers near the cemetery and marched across the bridge with them.
“I think it’s an absolute disgrace that Republican governance and legislators are doing everything that they can to suppress the vote, to make it harder for poor people, for old people, for people of color to vote,” Sanders said. “I think that’s a disgrace, and in Congress we have to do the exact opposite and make it easier for all people to vote.”
Le’Kedra Robertson, 36, drove from New Orleans to South Hill, Va., and marched for 10 days with the activists. She is the founder and president of the Milne Inspiration Center, a youth leadership organization.
“It was like speed dating as you walk,” Robertson said. “You meet someone new every 15 to 20 minutes, so you got to get these very rich stories of people’s lives.”
According to the NAACP, the march is a way to mobilize activists and advance a national advocacy agenda that protects the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, fair and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage, and equitable public education.
On Wednesday, marchers were to visit members of Congress to lobby for legislation.
Walking for almost 800 miles, Royal Mayo, 48, met with the group in Selma and finished the march on Tuesday. On Tuesday, he said his legs and shins hurt, but that the issues he marched for were more important.
“Black lives matter, black votes matter, black jobs matter and black schools matter,” said Mayo, a sales representative from Steubenville, Ohio. “We’re lacking in those areas, and we’re not getting justice.”
Reach reporter Matias J. Ocner at [email protected] or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
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