Expressions in the arts

Jan. 15, 2014 @ 07:17 PM

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, students at Vance-Granville Community College produced works of art to express the real world impact of two landmark pieces of legislation: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The top entries, which included poems, speeches and visual art works, were presented at the college’s annual Martin Luther King Jr., Day celebration Wednesday.

Student Karlee Pilcher re-imagined the “HOPE” and “CHANGE” posters for President Barack Obama’s campaign 2008 by drawing a multicolored depiction of King above the word “DREAM.”

College President Stelfanie Williams said the holiday is not only about celebrating King’s remarkable life, but also about noting the ability everyone has to change communities through inspiration and service.

“You all know our college mission statement says Vance-Granville educates, inspires and supports a diverse community of learners to achieve professional and personal success,” Williams said. “Today we are focusing on the second of those three verbs: inspiring. We are inspired by the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and we are going to be inspired by our own students, faculty and staff.”

Roberta Scott, VGCC’s adult high school diploma coordinator, witnessed King’s “I have a dream” speech first-hand when she participated in the March on Washington 50 years ago.

“It was a hot day in August and you know when it’s hot, temperatures rise, people get upset and all that goes on,” Scott recalled. “But it is probably even today difficult to believe that we, that the throngs of people, marched peacefully, chanting, singing joyously through the streets of the nation’s capital.”

John Britton II, a radiology student, presented his poem entitled “Martin Luther King Jr.: The Legend.”

“The Voting Rights Act opened the polls for citizens to resolve conflicts and strife, because democracy is efficient when the weakest of persons enjoys the highest of rights,” Britton’s poem read.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The legislation made racial segregation and “Jim Crow” laws illegal.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits racial discrimination in voting practices by the federal, state and local governments. It outlawed the disenfranchisement of blacks through the use of unjust voting procedures, such as poll taxes and literacy tests.

One part of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act established a formula to identify the specific areas of the country that had the greatest potential for discrimination and the need for more strict remedies.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions covered by this formula could not implement any change affecting voting until the U.S attorney general or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia determined the change did not have a discriminatory purpose and would not have a discriminatory effect, according to the U.S. Department of Justice website.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court passed a judgment that declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. The Supreme Court decision effectively dismantled the Section 4 formula as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

In the aftermath of the ruling, a number of state legislatures made substantial changes to their voting laws, including North Carolina.

The N.C. General Assembly passed a new voter identification law in the summer that will require government-issued photo IDs at the polls, shorten early voting by one week, and end same-day registration during early voting.

Scott said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling will hurt the progress that has been made.

“It took blood, sweat and tears to get us to the point where we are now,” she said. “I think this has taken us back many years. It will take another leader like Dr. King to change what has happened.”

 

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.