Along with Attorney General Eric Holder, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. John Lewis, and other civil rights leaders, Sherrilyn Ifill spoke to tens of thousands of Americans at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. The marchers stretched from the Lincoln Memorial down the length of the Mall’s reflecting pool and beyond. Although we marched for myriad reasons — to honor our history, to call for more jobs and a living wage, to end mass incarceration and racial profiling — the March was first and foremost a call to action. There is so much work to be done. African-Americans’ continuing struggle for equality and equal rights is, in fact, the central drama of democratic progress.
Good morning! It is truly a good morning – in fact a great morning – when thousands of people from all over America – wake up with their collective minds set on freedom, justice and equality. I stand before you representing this nation’s greatest civil rights law organization, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Our lawyers litigated and argued the Shelby County voting rights case in the United States Supreme Court. Sixty years ago, our lawyers led by Thurgood Marshall litigated and won Brown v. Board of Education.
Most importantly I stand before you on behalf of the people we represent from all over the country: people like Ernest Montgomery and Earl Cunningham and all of the black voters in Shelby County, Alabama who bravely stood up to fight for equality and fairness in voting and in the political process. I represent today those on whose behalf we fight in the courts: those who have been stopped, frisked, foreclosed on, shut out, profiled. Children placed in the school-to-prison pipeline. Men who’ve been sentenced to death row because they are black.
I stand to represent all of the thousands of people we have represented over the years in courts all over this country. People brave enough to believe like all of you believe that we have a right to a fair justice system. People who recognize that to maintain a democracy is hard work. It requires agitation, and mobilization, and organization, and litigation, and a consistent demand for more justice, for greater equality, for more peace.
We know that that our voices in the courtroom are not enough. We need to raise our voices in the street as well. We need to let Congress hear us. When we tell them they must amend the Voting Rights Act, let them hear you! Tell them: amend the Voting Rights Act. And in case they didn’t hear you today, call their offices on Monday morning and tell them again. Tell our state houses: we don’t want stand-your-ground laws that allow people to stalk and kill our children and get away with it.
Finally I represent all of those women who were not allowed to speak at the March 50 years ago. Gloria Richardson. And Fannie Lou Hamer. And Constance Baker Motley. And Rosa Parks. Women who were pillars of the Civil Rights Movement. They too were beaten and shut out and marginalized. But they didn’t give up. Today they speak through all of us. And so this is a good morning. A great morning. For freedom. For justice. For equality. Thank you.
The day after the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Sherrilyn Ifill appeared on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show. She discussed the strenuous efforts of civil rights law firms, particularly LDF, who are fanning out across the South, assessing changes to voting procedures, and preparing to “unleash a wave of litigation” against discriminatory changes. “This is not what Congress wanted. Congress wanted a Section 5,” she said. “The fight was brought to us and we’re gonna take it on.”