By Joey Matthews
The overflow audience rose as one. They enthusiastically cheered the Rev. Al Sharpton. His electrifying, passionate message: Don’t let the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and the historic election of President Obama be taken away.
“People died to get us the right to vote,” Rev. Sharpton powerfully reminded an audience of more than 1,500 people Oct. 9. “People lost their careers. Children were bombed in churches. People were mowed down with their eyes open.
“There was too much bloodshed, too many nights in jail, too many miles marched. We are not going to turn around now.”
The 58-year-old founder of the National Action Network delivered his rousing message at a spirited get-out-the-vote rally at the Cedar Street Baptist Church of God in Church Hill, where Dr. Anthony M. Chandler Sr. is pastor.
At stake in this election is “all that was achieved in the ’60s and ’70s,” Rev. Sharpton told the predominately African-American audience that responded with high emotion to his message. “If you are sitting at home and not voting with all of this at stake, then you’re not worth the sacrifices that were made.”
The rally was organized by a newly formed clergy group called Pastors United Around Richmond. The Rev. Roscoe D. Cooper III, president of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Richmond and Vicinity, helped organize the group. He moderated the rally that included spirited music.
The rally was designed to boost voter turnout in the pivotal Nov. 6 elections. Strong emphasis was placed on getting as many people to register to vote before the deadline on Monday, Oct. 15. Rev. Sharpton drew loud applause when he said the issues are too important for eligible voters to sit out this election.
“When you have folks that have come out and said, ‘We’re going to change voting rights, we’re going to change health care, we’re going to de-fund education, give a tax cut to the rich, and we’re going to balance it by having poor people and working people and programs that serve them cut,’ we’re not talking about who you like, we’re talking about whether you like yourself,” he said to loud applause.
Rev. Sharpton was introduced to the rally audience by Mayor Dwight C. Jones. He called Rev. Sharpton “the pre-eminent civil rights leader in our country today.”
Mayor Jones, a longtime Richmond minister, serves on the National Action Network’s board. Rev. Sharpton called him “a dear friend.” The mayor said he invited Rev. Sharpton to lead the voter rally because he wanted “to do something to turn up the volume in the city of Richmond” after returning from the Democratic National Convention in early September.
Rev. Sharpton’s resumé reads in part: Founder and president of the National Action Network, presidential candidate in 2004 and host of the MSNBC evening TV talk show “PoliticsNation” and the “Keepin’ It Real” radio show. He hosted his radio show on the afternoon of the rally in the church fellowship hall prior to the rally. He was joined in the pulpit by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Virginia’s lone black member of Congress. The 3rd District representative did not speak. Other elected officials present included state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III and Delegate Delores L. McQuinn, both of Richmond.