Activists on the 1,000-mile march from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C. calling for comprehensive civil rights reforms to national policies arrived at their final destination on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday bearing the message, "Our lives, our votes, our jobs, and our schools matter."
"[T]his is not the end of America’s Journey for Justice. From Selma to Washington and indeed in every corner of our country, that journey must continue," said Miles Rapoport, president of the voting rights advocacy group Common Cause, one of the event partners. "This march has reminded the nation that we still have some distance to travel before we realize the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of from these steps a half-century ago."
The participants, including NAACP President Cornell William Brooks and the leaders of numerous progressive organizations, along with activists and volunteers from around the country, began the Journey for Justice in Selma on August 1. The six-week march through the South called for a new national agenda that "protects the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage, and equitable public education."
Following their arrival on Capitol Hill, the marchers will hold a legislative teach-in on Tuesday night and an 'Advocacy Day' on Wednesday. Speakers include leaders of several organizations that took part in the march, including Common Cause, the ACLU, Sierra Club, and dozens of other advocacy, environmental, and interfaith groups.
Along the way, the Journey for Justice has held demonstrations calling for individual reforms—such as a rally on the steps of South Carolina's statehouse in favor of standardizing use-of-force rules for all law enforcement agents.
Tragically, one well-known activist passed away during the final stretch of the march this week. Middle Passage, a 68-year-old veteran and civil rights leader known for his lively spirit, who carried the American flag every morning during the journey, fell ill on Sunday and later died after making it 920 miles for justice.
In response to his passing, Brooks released a statement that read in part:
Across the bustling and bucolic landscape of this country, I watched Middle fist and shoulder bump rabbis, law-enforcement officers, young people and people like so many of us who often cherish the kindness of another without even realizing the degree to which we need the warmth of our shared humanity.
I've always felt such a profound sense of patriotism watching Middle Passage carry our flag as an elder veteran and a youthfully spirited justice seeker on America's Journey for Justice.
"His name was Middle Passage, a name that both invokes a historical legacy of suffering while suggesting the aspirations of freedom by African-Americans," Brooks said. "It was my forever-to-be-cherished honor to walk beside Middle Passage for hundreds of miles on America's Journey for Justice....We will carry the flag forward and complete this march. Rest in peace, my brother."