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Freedom Ride for Voting Rights begins on Juneteenth

Original Freedom Riders say voter protections needed
Published: Jun. 18, 2021 at 6:51 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 7:15 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -A multi-state bus ride, called the Freedom Ride for Voting Rights begins on Juneteenth and related events were held a day earlier in New Orleans where some 1960s Freedom Riders still live. They say voting rights are under attack.

Outside the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center buses wrapped with the words, Freedom Ride” were lined up. Inside the venue, three New Orleanians, who risked their lives to take part in the 1961 Freedom Rides through southern states which challenged segregation, spoke of their experiences.

“They started beating Jerome with brass knuckles,” said Doratha “Dodie” Smith-Simmons, about an attack in McComb, Mississippi.

Jerome Smith spoke of the impact of being beaten by whites opposed to the Freedom Rides.

“For many a day, I was going in and out of consciousness,” he said.

Claude Reese was on a bus with other Freedom Riders later in the week.

“The bus with five of us on it with a bus driver road down the street, you know, there was all kinds of noise stuff,” Reese stated.

On Saturday, the buses head out for a voter outreach tour starting in Jackson, Mississippi, and ending in Washington D.C.

Latosha Brown is co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

“When we’re talking about democracy, the fundamental foundation of democracy is based on having access for people to have access to vote,” she said.

Cliff Albright is also a founder of Black Voters Matter.

“Louisiana may not have had a big voter suppression bill like places like Georgia or Florida or Texas but there’s still a long way to go in order to get the expanded voting rights that we want to see even in this state,” said Albright.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have comprehensive legislation to protect voters’ rights nationwide, but Senate Republicans vow to block the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defended the recent revisions made to voting laws in dozens of states with GOP-controlled legislatures.

Some Republican lawmakers think laws at the state level need to be strengthened after former President Donald Trump’s unproven claims that the 2020 presidential election was fraught with fraud.

“I’ve taken a look at all these new state laws and none of them are designed to suppress the vote,” said McConnell.

The original Freedom Riders say the fight to protect voters is warranted.

“Whatever is coming against us, it’s just one simple word: you resist,” said Smith.

“Trying to stop blacks and others from voting is wrong. I see that I may be called to get back out in the field to do voter registration,” said Smith-Simmons.

Reese questioned the opposition to the proposed federal voting protections legislation.

“And what will it take to end that kind of reluctance? You know, way back then when we did freedom rides in ’61, it was about reluctance, reluctance, you know, so much of the South to accept what the Interstate Commerce Commission had said, that there is to be no segregation in facilities of interstate commerce,” he said.

McConnell says states should continue to run their own elections.

“There is no rational basis for the federal government trying to take over all American elections,” said McConnell.

Some other Senate Republicans allege the voting rights legislation will lead to cheating in elections.

Smith lives with the impact of the brutal beatings he endured during the Civil Rights movement.

“I still suffer with, I can’t use phones all the time because it generates a sensation,” he said.

And voting rights advocates say what is happening in some state legislatures makes it critical for Congress to enact federal voting protections.

“We know that currently what we’ve been seeing the last couple of months is an all-out assault and attack on voting rights in this nation in 47 states,” said Brown.

The Freedom Ride for Voting Rights begins two days after President Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth which is June 19th, a federal holiday.

“I commend the president for doing that; what we want to do is we want to make sure that it’s not a symbol, that it’s substance behind it,” said Brown.

The Freedom Ride for Voting Rights ends on June 26th at the National Mall in Washington.

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