Advertisement

‘Treat it as a working holiday’: Civil rights giant says Juneteenth is a day to grind against injustices in our communities

Wendell Paris, Sr. and other students, faculty from Tuskegee Institute protesting for equality
Wendell Paris, Sr. and other students, faculty from Tuskegee Institute protesting for equality(Photo by Jim Peppler, Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 4:10 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While some people may be spending Juneteenth under fireworks or simply reminiscing on the past, 76-year-old Wendell Paris, Sr. will be busy.

“I’m glad that it’s commissioned as a federal holiday, but we must treat it as a working holiday,” Paris said. “It is a holiday where we need to get out in our communities and correct some things that are happening now that we know to be wrong.”

Paris, who helped Fannie Lou Hamer fight voter suppression in the South, will be speaking at a rally promoting voting rights.

History has repeated itself for Harris.

“It is a pivotal moment for me because we’re having to bring attention once again to the fact that our votes are being suppressed all across the country,” he said.

Harris said 48 states, including Mississippi, are in the process of implementing over 300 laws he says will deny minorities the right to vote, a right the civil rights leader says people of color never fully had.

“We always had a temporary voting status, and it was never any intention of the United States for us to have full voting rights,” Harris quipped. “Our rights in 1965 [Voting Rights Act] were temporary, extended again in 1970, extended again in 75, again in 1983, again in 2003...”

One example of that in Mississippi is Senate Bill 2588. The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi called it a voter-suppression tool that would “force election commissioners to remove voters from the voter rolls for simply not voting.”

Saturday, Wendell Paris, Sr. will share the stage with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, State Senator Angela Turner Ford, Arekia Bennett, Jaribu Hill, Fred Douglas Moore Clark Sr, and Danyelle Holmes.

Our leaders are rallying at an outreach campaign called Black Voters Matter. Beginning in Jackson, Mississippi, the grassroots group is kicking off what they call Freedom Ride, a nine-city tour across the South to help minorities understand the impact of their vote.

“Every bill to suppress votes, criminalize protests, and weaken Black power is a reminder of the enduring history of slavery in this country,” Cliff Albright and LaTosha Brown, co-founders of Black Voters Matter, said. “But we are launching this Freedom Ride for Voting Rights on Juneteenth alongside local and national partners to show voters, communities, and elected officials of how far we’ve come and remind them what Black power can do.”

In the 1960s, Harris marched and rallied and organized voting rights efforts that created change, and despite his age, he hopes to educate and influence more people this time around.

“Ms. Hamer said, ‘you call it the land of the free and the home of the brave, but we call it the tree and the grave,’” Harris said. “The call to action is clear for all people of goodwill to come forward and make sure they are actively engaging in turning back this frontal attack on the voting rights of minorities all across this country so we can bring about the form of government for all people.”

Wendell Paris, Sr. in the 1960s speaking at a voting rights rally
Wendell Paris, Sr. in the 1960s speaking at a voting rights rally(Photo by Jim Peppler, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Copyright 2021 WLBT. All rights reserved.