Civil Rights Trailblazers Address Urgency of African American Voter Registration

Dr. Dorothy Cotton and Congressman John Lewis Remark on the Fierce Urgency of Now and African Americans Voter Registering

Chicago, IL – This week two icons of the Civil Rights Movement discussed the extreme importance of African Americans registering to vote during this historic election. In a conference call with reporters, Dr. Dorothy Cotton, formerly of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Congressman John Lewis, one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s trusted lieutenants, recounted their unique place in history and their efforts to secure the right to vote for African Americans.

Congressman Lewis, who marched with Dr. King across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, recounted the many examples of how African Americans fought to obtain the right to vote. “They stood in unmovable lines – some were beaten, some were shot and killed for attempting to register to vote,” said Lewis. Congressman Lewis went on to note that while many states, especially in the South, had large populations of African Americans, most were not allowed to register to vote.

Both Cotton and Lewis noted the unyielding spirit and determination of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement and how voter education became the focus of registration drives during that time. Dr. Cotton, who was the Education Director of the SCLC, described how the Citizen Education Program (CEP) helped play an early role in educating African Americans about their voting responsibilities. “The five day CEP workshops, with forty to fifty people, were designed to help African Americans re-define themselves. They were trained to discover the power in their vote,” Dr. Cotton said.

Dr. Cotton went on to underscore the importance of voting this Election Day citing that every aspect of life is affected by government – from healthcare to the economy to gas – and that in order to see the change that Barack Obama is promising the first step is to register to vote.

By some projections there are currently eight million African Americans unregistered to vote. The Obama-Biden campaign has registered more than half a million voters and has made educating the American people about their rights and responsibilities as participants in America’s rich democracy a priority.

The campaign knows that there is still work to be done and recently launched a new website, where people from across the country can find out if they are properly registered, register to vote for the first time, or get the relevant absentee voting information for their state.

As both Dr. Cotton and Congressman Lewis remarked the change that we want and that this country needs will not come on its own. African Americans will have to get involved – not just because so many have fought for that right, but because our very citizenship demands it.

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