ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany-Dougherty chapter of the NCAAP gathered in front of the Government Center Friday morning to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the signing of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"There is a sense of joy, because it's high noon in our politics," chapter President William Wright said. "The election of Barack Obama as President of these United States: high noon. Woman and people of color now dominate the landscape of American politics when we were once denied the right to vote.
"We are better, walls are down, bridges have been built from Selma to Montgomery to the White House. The question for us today is 'is the struggle for civil rights finished'?"
While gains have been made, Wright said he is disappointed that local officials have not done more.
"We do have a paradox in our community in that we are seeing more and more people who have benefited from the 1965 VRA ... are looking the other way with respect to affirmative action in employment, contracting and economic development," he said.
"In essence, a select group of black elected officials are demonstrating a callous indifference toward the disenfranchised in the city of Albany."
Wright contends the civil rights movement is entering the fourth of four phases: the first, end slavery; the second, end Jim Crow; the third, gain the right to vote; and the fourth, gain access to capital, industry and technology to engender economic parity.
"One hundred forty-seven years after the Emancipation Proclamation, we are free, but not equal. We are in need of massive restructuring," Wright said. "The field is neither adequate nor equal. Our work continues. Equal and adequate protection under the law is an expectation that should not be lowered, whether the economy is growing or contracting."
Wright then took a look back at where Albany was in 1965.
"I remember the city of Albany fought the VRA until forced to comply after a federal court trial in 1975," Wright recalled. "The Dougherty County Commission did not comply until 1978, and the Dougherty County School Board did not come under such jurisdiction until 1988.
State Rep. John White was the first black official in Albany in 1974."
So where do we go from here?
"We ask that all citizens take part in the recognition and celebration of the tremendous contributions made by the advent of the 1965 Voting Rights Act," Wright said. "All we have to do is take a look around our county and city governments, as well as the Dougherty County School Board of Education, to see the manifestations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act."