Kingstree, SC — Congressman James Clyburn and Former State Representative and CNN Political Commentator Bakari Sellers will be the featured speakers at the upcoming 50th Anniversary Celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “March on Ballot Boxes” speech. The event will be held on Sunday, May 8 at the Tomlinson High School athletic field in Kingstree, SC – the original location of Dr. King’s Mother’s Day 1966 speech. According to historians, Dr. King’s speech was one of only three public speeches he gave in the Palmetto State. News anchor Ann McGill from Live 5 News WCSC-TV will be the event emcee.
Just a few months prior to Dr. King’s speech, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, allowing the majority of Kingstree’s citizens the right to vote. President Johnson called the day, “a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has even been won.” Dr. King’s visit to Kingstree would be an important stop on his crusade to help rid African American voters of the fear of voting.
Both Clyburn and Sellers will share their thoughts on the historical significance of Dr. King’s speech, their predictions for the future of politics in the United States and their views on civil rights today. Clyburn was present at the original speech in 1966 and is thankful to be able to share his experience with the Kingstree community and others in attendance.
“I am so pleased to be a part of this historical event,” said Clyburn. “It is an opportunity for our community to come together and reflect on how far we have come and how far we need to go to achieve true equality for all.”
A native of South Carolina, Sellers is personally honored to be able to pay tribute to the state’s difficult history, while looking ahead to its promising future.
“I am a child of the Civil Rights Movement and I always like to remember those whose shoulders I stand on,” said Sellers. “I believe this event is not about what South Carolina is or was, but what it can be.”
In addition to speeches from Clyburn and Sellers, the schedule of events for the day includes a video presentation of Dr. King’s “March on Ballot Boxes” speech; the unveiling of a historical marker made possible by the SC Department of Archives and History; a presentation of awards for youth essay and art contests; and a gospel celebration. The original recording of Dr. King’s speech has been made available by the University of South Carolina. The university houses the file in their Moving Image Research Collection.
While members of the King family are unable to attend the event, through their representatives they have shared their thanks to Williamsburg County according to Michael Allen, who is a member of the event planning committee.
“Our planning committee was in direct communication with the offices of Dr. King’s family,” says Allen. “While they are unable to attend, we know they appreciate everything we are doing to commemorate and honor their father.”
Notably, the honorary chairs for next Sunday’s event are Ambassador Andrew Young and Dr. Clarence Jones. Both individuals played important roles in the Civil Rights Movement and were a part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s trusted inner circle.
Young and Jones were present when Dr. King shared his “March on Ballot Boxes” speech on the athletic field of Tomlinson High School in 1966, moving thousands of attendees to vote.
“It is an honor to be a part of this event and pay tribute to Dr. King,” said Young. “As we continue to fight for equal rights for all, it is important to remember the impact that one individual can have on the lives of millions.”
Both honorary chairs feel this event is more than just a way to commemorate how far we have come – it serves as a reminder of how much farther we have to go.
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is now endangered by the restrictions following the Roberts Court decision in Shelby v Holder in 2013 – which required pre-clearance from the Justice Department before they could change the eligibility requirements in their State to exercise the right to vote,” said Jones. “Thus, it is more important than ever, especially in South Carolina, former cradle of the Confederacy, that Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at Kingstree be commemorated.”
The event has been made possible through community support, volunteers and contributions from the Town of Kingstree, Williamsburg County and many other corporate sponsors. Mount Pleasant-based marketing and event planning agency, Trio Solutions Inc., was hired to oversee the event production.
The May 8 event is free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs and to arrive by 3 p.m. The program will begin at 3:30 p.m. Parking will be available at Anderson Elementary School and Farmers Telephone Cooperative near the Tomlinson High School athletic fields on Tomlinson Street in Kingstree.
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