KFTC members join historic civil rights march

KFTC members joined hundreds of others for the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Frankfort.

The march and rally on March 5 in Frankfort brought marching bands, school groups, ally organizations, surviving participants of the 1964 march, and many supporters of House Bill 70.

The timing was right to lift up the bill, which would automatically restore voting rights to most former felons once they’ve served their sentence. The bill passed the Kentucky House for the eighth time in January. After years of refusing to even hear the bill, the Senate added a committee substitute that would make the bill more restrictive and passed the new version on February 19. Because of the changes, the bill passed back to the House, which voted a few hours after the rally not to concur with the Senate version.

“Today we come not only to commemorate but also to advocate for civil rights and equal access to the ballot,” said emcee Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP.

Speaker after speaker urged the crowd to contact senators and press them to pass the original House version of HB 70.

Senator Georgia Davis Powers, who was the first African American elected to the Kentucky Senate and served 21 years, remembered the first march 50 years ago, when it was “sleeting and snowing and raining all at the same time.”

Powers talked about progress in civil rights, but called out the Senate for changing House Bill 70. “They messed up and voted a substitute that needs to be killed.”

She urged those present to “organize, organize, organize” to “kick the rascals out who are the enemies of equality.”

"This is about you, the Kentuckians, the feet of liberty who marched up that street to demand liberty." --Michael Hiser

KFTC member Michael Hiser, a father and teacher who is working on a master’s degree, shared some of his story of being a former felon.

“I’m not a citizen of Kentucky. I’m a citizen in transition,” Hiser said. He is free to pay taxes but not to vote.

“This is about you, the Kentuckians, the feet of liberty who marched up that street to demand liberty,” Hiser said.

Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, who has worked for a decade to pass House Bill 70, said the right to vote is a sacred right. “It is not a privilege like driving a car. It is a sacred right.”

Crenshaw told the crowd to contact every single senator “and ask them to help restore House Bill 70 to House Bill 70.”

Senator Gerald Neal, who spoke passionately on the Senate floor a few weeks ago in support of the original House Bill 70, invited everyone in the crowd to join him in the Senate chamber later in the afternoon.

“I live in a Senate that has been resistant and recalcitrant,” Neal said.

Other speakers included Kentucky’s poet laureate, Frank X Walker; Rep. Jeff Hoover, co-sponsor of House Bill 70; Governor Steve Beshear; and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, among others.

Even Beshear spoke strongly for House Bill 70. “We need to bring pressure to bear to ensure the Senate steps up and does the right thing,” Beshear said.

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