During a stop in Columbia Tuesday, longtime civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton urged “lazy and ungrateful” African-Americans to become more involved in the political process.
“Here you are in 2012. Nobody’s shooting you. Nobody’s bombing your churches. Nobody’s mowing you down like Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner,” Sharpton told the crowd of more than 400 people Tuesday, referencing three civil rights workers killed in Mississippi in 1964, “Just too lazy and ungrateful to get up and do what others died to do.”
AUDIO: Sharpton urges crowd to “stand up like never before” (2:00)
Sharpton spoke at the Voter Engagement and Protection Community Forum, an event organized by South Carolina Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn and others as part of National Voter Registration Day. Clyburn said the forum was one of several organized by members of the Congressional Black Caucus to educate African-American voters. In Clyburn’s case, he wanted voters to know that the South Carolina’s voting laws had not changed, as a 2011 law that would have required a photo identification to vote has been blocked by the U.S. Justice Department.
While Tuesday’s event was listed as nonpartisan, it often sounded like a rally for President Barack Obama. Sharpton admitted as much, “You can vote for who you want, but I’m going to tell you the record. This is nonpartisan, but it’s not nonsensical.”
He later said, “Here you are in 2012. Laptops all over your house. Blackberry in one pocket; cell phone in another pocket. Twitter, Facebook, email, and (you) can’t get five negroes together to do nothing.”
AUDIO: Sharpton compares Black Americans to the Israelites “lost in the wilderness” (6:09)
He then exhorted the crowd to “stand up like never before,” to fight back against efforts to require a photo identification to vote. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance were African-American. They cheered Sharpton’s comments.
“We got a little complacent when Barack Obama became President,” Weldon Hammond, a retiree who volunteers with voter registration efforts, said after the forum, “We said, ‘well everything is all right now and everything is done’… but you’ve got to be vigilant.”
Sharpton, Clyburn, and other speakers spent much of their time condemning the photo ID law, saying it was designed to disproportionately impact minorities. Republicans say it tries to prevent election fraud. The Justice Department blocked the law last year, but South Carolina officials sued, arguing that other states currently have similar rules.
While the speakers were mostly against the photo ID requirement, they also wanted the audience to know that the law will not take effect unless the Justice Department loses the lawsuit.
“Everything is still ‘as is,'” said Richland County Voter Registration director Lillian McBride, “Please don’t get discouraged. Please don’t let that distract you from voting.”
Hammond said he had heard some of those same concerns from people he helped to register. “There is a little bit of confusion,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.