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Mississippians celebrate Juneteenth and kickoff national voting rights campaign
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Residents from across Mississippi, as well as dozens from out of state, attended the kickoff event for the Freedom Ride for Voting Rights campaign in Jackson Saturday, June 19.
Kobee Vance, MPB News

A new Freedom Ride campaign has begun in Mississippi, raising awareness for voting rights and remembering past civil rights efforts. The event began on what has become the first Juneteenth to be nationally recognized as a holiday.

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Inside the Gym at Tougaloo College, hundreds of Mississippians are gathered to kick off the Freedom Ride for Voting Rights campaign. As a band of bongos are drummed in the background, activists chant “What side are we on my people? What side are we on? We’re on the freedom side.”

Busses are lined up outside waiting to drive through several southern cities on the way towards Washington D.C. Advocates say they want Congress to pass two voting rights bills. Cliff Albright is Co-Founder of Black Voters Matter and helped coordinate the ride. He says the event mirrors the Freedom Ride of 1961 to connect history with modern-day civil rights efforts.

“As we’re watching all these attacks on voting rights in all these states sweeping the country, we can’t keep fighting it on a state-by-state basis. We need today, just like we did in 1965, federal legislation to try to deal with this. And we have that legislation pending, and we’re waiting on action in the Senate. And so we’re doing this freedom ride so that in each state, we can make that demand.” says Albright.”

The event was also a celebration of Juneteenth, which was recognized as a federal holiday for the first time this year. Okolona resident Mamie Cunningham says she studied with Fannie Lou Hamer while in college and rode in the bus to Washington during Freedom Summer for the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She wants people to continue remembering what the day means for the freedom of Black Americans.

“It’s attention-getter. That’s how I see it. Because it doesn’t have any substance or action in it. It’s just a holiday. We need the bills passed that’s going to give us full voting rights,” says Cunningham. “They didn’t give [the recognition of Juneteenth] to us, we earned it.”

The Freedom Ride for Voting Rights campaign is also seeking statehood for the District of Columbia, where voters in the nation's capital are unable to elect representatives into federal office.