The Black Student Union, a new club at Manual, organized a field trip on Wednesday, March 5, to Frankfort, Ky. to participate in the 50th anniversary March on Frankfort.
Thirty-three students from various grades and magnets participated in the trip.
“It took weeks to make it happen,” said club president Jahne Brown (10, J&C). “The BSU board basically planned all of this ourselves. This was a student-made event. I was so relieved at how well it turned out.”
“The night before, we [the club officers] stayed up late texting and we were worried that wouldn’t have enough kids going. But it turned out to be 33. When everyone showed up in center hall, it was huge relief that we didn’t screw up our first big thing. It validated the BSU,” said club treasurer Josh Jean-Marie (10, J&C).
On March 5, 1964, approximately 10,000 activists marched to the Capitol to demand legislation against legal segregation and discrimination. Civil rights advocate Martin Luther King, Jr., major league baseball player Jackie Robinson, and the folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary participated in the march and led the crowd.
The speakers at Wednesday’s event included Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, HB70 authors and Kentucky legislators Jesse Crenshaw and Jeff Hoover, and Kentucky Secretary of State and Democratic Senate candidate Allison Lundergan Grimes. The march both commemorated the progress made in 1964 as Kentucky became the first Southern state to pass civil rights legislation and raised awareness for modern issues such as voting rights, immigration reform, and raising the minimum wage.
“While we celebrate our progress in the area of civil rights,” said Governor Beshear, “we recognize that we must still work to end poverty, to improve children’s health. We also must raise awareness of the need to improve voter access for all of our citizens— because nothing is more fundamental to our democratic society than voter participation.”
The most prominent reform advocated at the march was House Bill 70 (HB70), which would restore voting rights to felons after they had served their time.
“I’ve always thought that HB70 was simply the right thing to do. When a person has finished his or her obligation to the Commonwealth through the courts, when he or she has completed their sentence and they’ve completed the punishment according to what we, as members of the General Assembly determined to be the appropriate punishment, his or her rights, except in the most heinous of crimes, should be restored, including the right to vote,” said HB70 author Jeff Hoover, a Republican from House District 83.
HB70 passed the House of Representatives 82-12 with bipartisan support. The Senate received the bill on March 6. Now that the bill has passed the House, it must also be passed by the Senate and signed by Governor Beshear to become law.
“If a man or a woman commits a crime, then serves their time, we should treat them like the returning citizens that they are, not penalize them for their, race, color, or previous condition of servitude. And if anyone would still insist on denying them the privilege, a right guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment, then who is the real criminal?” said Kentucky poet laureate Frank X. Walker, in a poem written especially for the occasion.
Democrat Jesse Crenshaw of House District 77, who authored House Bill 270 — a law that requires the Department of Corrections to assist ex-offenders in applying for the restoration of their voting rights— said he designed HB70 to build upon the legislation brought about by HB270.
“There came a point when we saw that more was needed. And that is that ex offenders have their rights to vote restored automatically,” Crenshaw said. “The right to vote is a sacred right. It is not a privilege like driving a car; it is a sacred right.”
Protestors who participated in the march held signs which advocated numerous reforms, such as immigration reform, LGBT rights and gender equality. Sign bearers also supported the NAACP .
“What runs through all of this, 50 years ago, what runs through this today, is citizens,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer in a WLKY article. “You guys are great citizen leaders here today, taking your time to demonstrate to the world what you stand for— equal rights, social justice, doing the right thing,” Fischer said.