National NAACP leaders will converge on Cheraw Thursday during an 825-mile social justice march winding its way from Selma, Alabama to the nation’s capital.
The America’s Journey for Justice march is set to arrive the former S.C. National Guard armory in Cheraw Thursday morning. A mass meeting featuring remarks from NAACP National President and CEO Cornell William Brooks is planned for 7 p.m. at Pee Dee Union Baptist Church on Chestnut Street.
“I don’t know why they chose Cheraw, but I’m ecstatic that they chose Cheraw,” said Jackie Ellerbe-Shannon, a town councilwoman and the local NAACP branch’s community development chair. “This is huge.”
The former armory, which was transferred to the town of Cheraw last Friday for use as a public works building, will serve as the march’s anchor location from today through Tuesday.
“We are transforming the National Guard armory into a mini-hotel for the marchers,” Ellerbe-Shannon said.
Organizers call America’s Journey for Justice a historic march from the cradle of the civil rights movement to Washington, D.C. In each state along the route, participants will be calling attention to advocacy issues including education and voting rights.
Ellerbe-Shannon said Cheraw’s selection as an anchor for the march recognizes civil rights leader Levi G. Byrd, who founded the Cheraw branch of the NAACP in 1936.
“To have this national march here, I feel like it’s paying homage to a man who lived here, worked here and fought for civil rights for all people,” she said. “In the early 1930s, Mr. Byrd was beaten on our downtown streets. He was inquiring about a black lady being beaten and he was severely beaten. That’s what gave him the courage to say, ‘I want something better for me, for my children, for my family, for my race.’”
Ellerbe-Shannon said she asked Town Administrator Mike Smith about the NAACP’s use of the former armory to avoid a perceived conflict of interest. Cheraw’s town staff was supportive of hosting the group, which was initially estimated at 250 people.
As an anchor site, Cheraw will see more than just a visit from America’s Journey for Justice marchers. Civil rights workshops open to the public will be held at the armory from Friday through Tuesday.
A youth teach-in is planned for 7 p.m. Friday, followed by a teach-in on voting rights at 7 p.m. Saturday. Workshops on education, legislative issues and economic justice are scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday respectively.
“We want to show unity,” Ellerbe-Shannon said. “We want to show justice for all. We want to show that we are working here together to make sure everyone’s rights are accepted, that everyone is given justice. We want the world to know they are going on this march.”
While events will continue through Tuesday, the marchers themselves are set to cross the state line into North Carolina on Saturday. The neighboring Tar Heel State is a focal point for the NAACP’s campaign to protect voting rights for minorities and the poor.
State and national NAACP leaders have questioned North Carolina voting laws, including a photo identification requirement set to take effect in 2016 and a reduction in days for one-stop early voting.
Marchers plan to walk along U.S. 1 through Marlboro County into Richmond County, North Carolina, early Saturday. A youth and cultural artist teach-in is scheduled Saturday night in Aberdeen.
The North Carolina Journey for Justice, as the state’s leg of the march is called, culminate with a Rally for Voting Rights next Thursday in front of the N.C. General Assembly building.
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @corey_friedman.