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Marion Wright EdelmanMarian Wright Edelman
Marc Morial


  Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League
To Be Equal: Legislative Policy Conference Is the Centerpiece of National Urban League’s Role in Shaping Federal Agenda for Civil Rights and Urban Advocacy

“Some of the best work that has happened in the ongoing movements for justice, for freedom, for liberty, led by the Urban League, have been fueled by what we all know we do so well when we do it, which is coalition building. Urban League does this so well.”

—Vice President Kamala Harris


The anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches this week shone a spotlight on the escalating assault on voting rights. U.S. Department of Justice’s scathing rebuke of the Louisville Police Department underscored the urgent need to redefine public safety. The U.S. Senate overturned criminal justice reform in the District of Columbia, reinforcing the case for D.C statehood.

In the midst of it all, about 500 Urban League leaders, staffers, and volunteers were on the ground in the nation’s capital, advancing our agenda on these issues and others, as part of the National Urban League’s milestone 20th annual Legislative Policy Conference.

Before I became President and CEO of the National Urban League 20 years ago, I served in elective office, including two terms as Mayor of New Orleans and one as a Louisiana state senator. As the first public official to lead the National Urban League, I understood better than most how the proverbial “sausage” of public policy is made and I was determined that the Urban League movement would play a more influential role in making it.

The Legislative Policy Conference became the centerpiece of our redefined role.

One longtime affiliate leader confided in me, “Before you came, we didn’t understand the relationship between politics and policy.” The preeminence of our Legislative Policy Conference, which attracted the top leaders from Congress, the Cabinet, and even President Biden himself, is evidence of how well we understand it now.  The National Urban League’s influence can be seen throughout the most significant and wide-ranging federal initiatives undertaken in recent years, particularly those which impact the five pillars that drive our mission—workforce development, education, housing, health, and social justice.

The landmark American Rescue Plan, which helped bring the crippling COVID-19 pandemic under control and hastened a robust economic recovery, was dramatically enhanced by provisions the National Urban League proposed and advocated like the expanded Child Tax Credit, extended SNAP benefit increases and supplemental unemployment insurance, and a National Urban League-backed community-based vaccination plan to target the hardest-hit neighborhoods.

President Biden’s historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was modeled on the Main Street Marshall Plan,  the National Urban League’s comprehensive blueprint for addressing lack of opportunity and economic inequality in America’s urban communities.  In addition to once-in-a-generation investments in modernizing the nation’s railways, roads, bridges, airports; the legislation also includes the transformational expansion of broadband internet infrastructure for which we advocated in the Lewis Latimer Plan for Digital Equity and Inclusion.

Not only did President Biden heed our call to make the Minority Business Development Agency permanent, but he also appointed National Urban League Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Donald R. Cravins, Jr., to lead the agency as the first-ever Under Secretary of Commerce for Minority Business Development.

President Biden’s Executive Order on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing, and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety, incorporates many of the themes of the National Urban League’s comprehensive framework for criminal justice advocacy, 21 Pillars for Redefining Public Safety and Restoring Community Trust. These include bans on racial profiling, chokeholds, no-knock warrants, and shooting at moving vehicles; investigation of police misconduct, revision of use-of-force policies, demilitarization of police, data collection on misconduct and use of force, mandatory use of dashboard and body cameras strengthening of hiring and training standards, and increased diversity among both leadership and ranks.

The National Urban League’s influence on national policy stretches back through the decades: Executive Director Eugene Kinkle Jones served as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet” in the 1930s. His successor Lester Granger led the effort to desegregate the nation’s armed forces under President Harry Truman. The legendary Whitney M. Young, Jr., was integral to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And Vernon Jordan rebutted President Ford’s State of the Union Address with the first State of Black America® report, the definitive annual benchmark of the economic and social status of African Americans. The Legislative Policy Conference, however, represents a historic expansion and redefinition over the last 20 years of the position our movement now occupies in the nation’s legislative, administrative, and political institutions.

—March 9, 2023


Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President Emerita, Children's Defense Fund

ChildWatch: The Truth of Selma

“History matters . . . The truth matters—notwithstanding what the other team is trying to hide. They’re trying to hide the truth. No matter how hard some people try, we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should learn everything—the good, the bad, the truth—of who we are as a nation. And everyone should know the truth of Selma.”

On Sunday, President Biden spoke at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” That was the day in March 1965 when John Lewis, Hosea Williams, and 600 others who had set out on a nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery to demand their right to vote were brutally attacked at the bridge by lawless state and local law enforcement officials.

President Biden continued: “Six hundred believers put faith into action to march across that bridge named after the Grand Dragon of the KKK. They were on their way to the state capitol in Montgomery to claim their fundamental right to vote, laid in the bedrock of our Constitution, but stolen by hate harbored in too many hearts. With unflinching courage, foot soldiers for justice marched through the valley of the shadow of death, and they feared no evil. The forces of hate conspired to demise, but they endured. They forced the country to confront the hard truths and to act to keep the promise of America alive.” The televised images of the attacks on the bridge and the savage beatings of the marchers—including John Lewis, whose skull was fractured, and 53-year-old Amelia Boynton (later Boynton Robinson), who was tear gassed and beaten unconscious—did indeed force the country to confront hard truths. They became a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement and in America’s struggle to become America.

The Selma march was originally planned not only to gain the right to vote, but to protest the tragic death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old Black church deacon and military veteran killed in Marion, Alabama days earlier when he, his mother, sister, and 82-year-old grandfather attended another nonviolent voting rights demonstration where marchers were brutally attacked by racist Alabama law enforcement officials. Jimmie Lee Jackson was beaten and shot trying to shield his mother from a police nightstick. This week’s release of the Justice Department report documenting the Louisville, Kentucky police department’s pervasive patterns of racial bias, constitutional rights violations, and excessive use of force against Black residents was a reminder of the tragic and deadly through line that connects Jimmie Lee Jackson to Breonna Taylor and thousands of other Black citizens, then and now. Just as voting rights are under renewed attack in Alabama and elsewhere, buoyed by those who are still trafficking in lies about the last election and fighting desperately to find new ways to suppress and challenge votes in the next one, we are still fighting to keep the promise of America alive. The struggle towards progress is only compounded when we need to divide our energy to fight those trying to hide the truth about our nation’s history.

Two weeks after Bloody Sunday, I traveled from Mississippi, where I was working as a young civil rights lawyer, to Alabama to join John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and about 25,000 fellow citizens to resume marching the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery. As Dr. King spoke from the steps of the state’s capitol at the end of the exhilarating march, he said we needed to keep going: “Let us therefore continue our triumphant march to the realization of the American dream. Let us march on segregated housing until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing. Let us march on segregated schools until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past … Let us march on poverty until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat … Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress men [and women] who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.”

President Biden ended his own remarks in Selma this way: “We know history does not look kindly on those who deny the march across the bridge to redeem the soul of America. Let me close with this: In many of your faith traditions, Sunday is the Sabbath, a day of rest. But on that Sunday morning, on March 7, 1965, Amelia Boynton Robinson and 600 of her fellow children of God chose different pews. On this bridge of her beloved Selma, they were called to the altar of democracy, unsure of their fate but certain that the cause was righteous. So she would go on to say, ‘You can never know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.’  We know where we have been. And, my fellow Americans, on this Sunday of our time, we know where we’ve been and we know, more importantly, where we have to go: forward together. So let’s pray, but let’s not rest. Let’s keep marching.  Let’s keep the faith.” This is what we must all still do.                       —March 10, 2023


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