March 27, 2015
By LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan
Fifty years ago, a weary but proud no-nviolent army of civil rights activists took their last steps in a 54-mile march for voting rights, pushing our nation one step closer to fulfilling its promise of equal justice for all. Led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, these heroic Americans put their lives on the line to call attention to the ongoing denial of our most fundamental right: the right to vote.
Three laid down their lives during the campaign that culminated in the march: Jimmie Lee Jackson, the Reverend James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo. On behalf of the General Executive Board and 500,000 members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), I thank all who marched, and all who supported the marchers, for their dedication, commitment, and sacrifice. Our union, our movement, and our country owes these brave champions of justice an enormous debt of gratitude that can only be repaid by continuing to protect, and to exercise, the voting rights of all Americans.
At LIUNA, we are proud that the fight for racial justice has been a part of our organizational DNA since our very founding in 1903. We are proud that our first General Executive Board included two African-American Laborers: Moses Payton and Elmo Chambers. We are proud that our very first General President, Herman Lilien, a Belgian immigrant who knew the bitter taste of prejudice himself, refused to charter separate white and black Local Unions. We are proud that our great International Union was founded by those who were targets of bigotry: African-Americans; Catholics; and immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and many other countries. Over the past 112 years, we have seen that as long as the rights of any one group of Americans are threatened or denied, the rights of all Americans are in danger.
Sadly, even as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March, we are faced with efforts to turn back the clock. Overly restrictive voter ID laws, increased barriers to voter participation, and brazen attempts to suppress voter turnout continue to tear at the very fabric of our great democracy. But just as the marchers of Selma would not be deterred in their righteous battle for freedom, so we will not be deterred in our defense of their accomplishments. These courageous men and women of all races, religions, and nationalities bequeathed to us a stronger, better, more inclusive republic. It is our sacred duty to honor, protect, and preserve that bequest.