March on day of Martin Luther King’s death calls for action on voting rights, racism

Fifty-four years after his death, the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. could be felt in the hundreds who marched on the city’s streets Monday raising awareness of several social issues, including voting rights legislation.

Over 300 people, coming from New Jersey cities from Montclair to Camden and representing various groups, marched from the Abraham Lincoln statue on Springfield Avenue to Market Street.

They held signs that read “Martin Luther King: His Struggle Continues” and “End Racism Now.” They then made their way back down Market Street to the King statue on MLK Boulevard. They chanted “No Justice, No Peace” and “If We Don’t Get It, Shut It Down.”

Paramus residents Shelli Rigolosi and her husband, Ronald, held up signs that read “No Vote, No Democracy, No Kidding” and “Democracy: Everyone Votes, Every Vote Is Counted.”

Ronald said what brought him out to the march was that “there’s a real threat to our democracy right now. Starting in Washington, they are trying to deny our right to vote across multiple states. A minority should not rule the majority.”

Shelli said, “There is a suppression of voting going on, and I find it rather frightening … The next election in 2024, is it going to be fair or is it going to be like elections in our past?”

In the days before the iconic civil rights activist was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while standing on a Memphis motel balcony, King was there advocating for garbage workers in that city who were striking for better treatment.

The Million People’s March for Voting Rights, Equality, Democracy and Peace was organized by the Newark-based People’s Organization for Progress, along with other groups.

Larry Hamm, the founder of the People’s Organization for Progress and the march’s lead organizer, estimated that over 300 people came out and about 140 organizations were invited to participate.

He said in an interview before the march that the purpose was “to draw attention to issues of voting rights, the need for racial justice and equality, the need to preserve democracy in this country, and the need to end war.”

Hamm said the day also brought to mind when he was a freshman in 1968 at nearby Newark Arts High School when King was killed. “It is one of those things you never forget,” he said.

King visited Newark in March 1968 and spoke at what was then South Side High School, now Shabazz High School.

Later Monday, at an evening rally at the King statue, Hamm would hold a moment of silence for MLK at the time he was pronounced dead, 7:05 p.m.

Representatives of the various organizations that took part in the march spoke at the rally. Among them was Zellie Imani Thomas of Black Lives Matter Paterson who fired up the crowd by leading the attendees in a chant of “I know we will win” and called for the abolition of racism.

Seton Hall University students Tawanna Brown and Megan Clement were holding up a banner with Martin Luther King’s image. Brown, a freshman who is on the school’s Martin Luther King Scholarship Organization, said attending the march on the anniversary of his death was “enlightening” and “very impactful.”

“Being out here is just a reminder to continue to stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and to continue to fight and use my voice for change,” Brown said.

Clement, a junior, said it was “a blessing” to be at the march and to support the various causes and issues being addressed.