Welcoming remarks came from former NAACP National Board member and Tuskegee native Dr. Elaine C. Harrington, who said she had just returned from a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington.
Hugh Morris, president of the Talladega Chapter, offered an opening prayer before introducing Alabama NAACP Director Benard Simelton.
Simelton said it was “only fitting to have the state conference here in 2013. It was in 1913 that first unit of the NAACP was formed in the south, here in Alabama, right up the road at Talladega College. Before Birmingham, before Montgomery, the NAACP was here in Talladega.” That organization only lasted one year, however, following a disagreement between the local leadership and the national body.
Simelton went on to say that the struggle still continued in 2013. “Since last year, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Alabama and many other states have passed restrictive voter ID laws, and Congress has not been able to pass a budget or continuing resolution without holding the Affordable Care Act hostage. The ACA is the law of the land, and I don’t know why Congress can’t understand that. But not having a budget effects our economic stability and our credibility. This is not rocket science. We need to get federal workers back to work.”
So-called “stand your ground laws” will also be a topic of discussion this weekend. Simelton said he did not object to gun ownership, had grown up around guns and was himself an occasional hunter, but could not justify “laws making it easier to own large guns which serve no other purpose than killing and maiming more people.”
And of course, this year is also the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and the integration of the University of Alabama.
“50 years ago, Gov. George Wallace stood in the door of the University of Alabama to prevent James Hood and Vivian Marlow entry, saying “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.’ Then yesterday, we hear that two African American young ladies applied to join a sorority and were denied because of the color of their skin. Here it is, 2013, and we’re still fighting segregation in schools and in our social organizations. This should not be.”
“We will continue,” he concluded, “to fight for equality and jobs for all.”
Harrington then stated the theme of this year’s conference, which was that voting rights are rights and not racial entitlements. Regional director Kevin Miles of Atlanta reemphasized the theme and most of the topics to be covered over the weekend, including stand your ground and the Voting Rights Act decision, as well as immigration policy and other issues.
Talladega Mayor Larry Barton concurred with the theme of the importance of voting, pointing out that the town of Waldo had just elected a new mayor by a margin of three votes.
Talladega County Commission Chairman Kelvin Cunningham also briefly addressed the conference.
Events for today include registration from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., a labor breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 8:50 a.m. and the opening plenary session from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. There will be a meeting on the restoration of voting rights and on health from 10:05 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., followed by the veterans affairs luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley will be the guest speaker at the luncheon.
Meetings on environmental justice and membership will be taking place between 1:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. and the president’s forum will be from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Committee meetings will be held from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., followed by a communications meeting from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact Chris Norwood at email@example.com