IN FOCUS Discussion: Civil rights and John Lewis’ legacy

In Focus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Saturday marked one year since civil rights icon, John Lewis passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age 80.

Communities across the country, including right here in Salt Lake City, held candlelight vigils in his honor and to rally for congressional lawmakers to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Lewis fought tirelessly by marching in the streets and fighting in congress for equal voting rights throughout his life.

One of the most notable events in Lewis’ life was when he was beaten by police while marching for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Yet, he continued to advocate and lobby for the Voting Rights Act, which was ultimately passed by both the House and the Senate, and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He went on to serve 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th congressional district from 1987 until his death in 2020.

The anniversary of his death comes during a controversial national debate on whether voting laws should be changed, as 17 Republican-controlled states are either considering or already passed laws mandating when and where citizens can vote. Supporters say it’s a response to allegations of voting fraud, repeatedly made by former President Donald Trump in the months after his presidential defeat. However, opponents say the allegations are false and not substantiated by evidence. They also say the laws make it more difficult for marginalized communities to vote, who already have a low turnout rate.

In the past week, Texas House Democrats traveled to Washington D.C. to pressure congressional lawmakers to enact new federal rules for conducting elections that would supersede any state actions. Ohio Congresswoman Joyce Beatty was arrested after participating in a voting rights protest in Washington D.C. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar brought her Senate Rules Committee hearing on Georgia’s new election law to Atlanta. Republican U.S. senators refused to attend the hearing and Georgia Republicans called it a “circus,” saying their bill actually makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat.

A panel of civil rights leaders and community activists joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. to discuss Lewis’ legacy and the work that still needs to be done in the movement for equity and equality. The guests were Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch; Darlene McDonald, author and social activist; and Betty Sawyer, president of the Ogden NAACP.

The panel discussed how Lewis inspires and influences the work they continue to do today, what some of the biggest challenges and barriers have been in the fight for civil rights, the current state of the movement in the U.S., the significance of what happened in 2020 after the death of George Floyd, and their thoughts regarding the national debate on changing voting laws.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Williams, McDonald, and Sawyer, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.

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