MLK’s Message—and Mission—For Voting Rights
April 4 was the 53rd anniversary of the day that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. On that day, Dr. King’s daughter Bernice King tweeted an important message that we must all take to heart:
“As you tweet about my father today, know that he organized and protested against #voter #suppression and believed that the ballot box is on the path to justice and freedom. Standing against voter suppression is one great way to honor him today. ‘Let us march on ballot boxes!’”
Yes! Let us march!
We’ll march in the fight against voter suppression. We’ll march for electoral representation, voting rights and political campaigns to elect more intersectional feminist champions. We’ll march for as long as it takes, inspired by the tireless effort and terrible sacrifice made by leaders like Dr. King.
Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his first speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1957. The “Give Us the Ballot” speech set the tone for the voting rights struggle that continues to this day:
Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.
Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law …
Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will …
Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy …
Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of (Brown v. Board of Education).”
Today, we are at another crossroads of voting rights. While states like Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Alabama race to pass new restrictions on voting, hope springs from Dr. King’s vision—and the movement he inspired—in places like Virginia.
The Virginia Voting Rights Act is the first of its kind in the South, and a pioneering model for comprehensive voter protections. The act includes repealing the state’s voter ID law, creating 45 days of no-excuse absentee voting, making Election Day a state holiday and enacting automatic voter registration for anyone with a valid Virginia driver’s license.
What’s more, the plan protects against the kind of anti-democratic interference passed in Georgia by requiring all public elections administrators to receive public feedback or advance approval from the state’s attorney general for changes to voting procedures, allows voters and the attorney general to sue over voter suppression and bans any racial discrimination or intimidation.
NOW will be working to pass similar protections in other states, as we continue our advocacy for H.R. 1, the For the People Act and H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. You can read more about these bills here.
The struggle for voting rights that Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired us to join is just one arena in which NOW is working for urgent, empowering and intersectional change. All of our success comes from the strength and dedication of our activists. There’s nothing we can’t do together.