Those fighting to change the way Terrebonne Parish elects its judges received some celebrity endorsements tonight when relatives of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the brother of Rev. Al Sharpton visited the NAACP office to show their support.
A federal judge ruled Aug. 17 the state’s use of at-large voting for electing its five judges in Terrebonne discriminates against black voters.
King’s nephew, Isaac Farris, congratulated members of NAACP and its supporters on their recent victory but warned them the fight was far from over.
“Not everyone’s happy about this, not everyone’s supportive of it, but don’t let that deter you,” Farris said. “You’ve come too far to turn back. This is a major victory not only for Terrebonne Parish but for what’s happening in our country right now.”
Although he wasn’t in attendance Saturday, King’s oldest son, Martin Luther King III, commended the crowd via teleconference.
“As you’re well aware, my father and many others from Louisiana worked diligently to ensure that African-Americans and many who had been excluded from the process could ultimately become voters,” King III said. “This maximizes the opportunity for people to vote. This is a great victory for this county, the state and people around the nation. The fight is not over, but we are making strides.”
In 2014, the Terrebonne chapter of the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the state over its voting practices for judges. Plaintiffs championed a new system that would include five single-member districts for judges, including one with a voter majority made up of blacks and other minorities.
The Attorney General’s Office criticized the judge’s ruling and filed a notice of appeal.
Farris said the fight to create a minority subdistrict in Terrebonne Parish isn’t just about electing a black judge.
“This is about the opportunity for black people to elect the best person to represent them,” Farris said. “We have to vote for people who think like us, not just look like us. This about our people having their voices heard.”
The Rev. Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow, brother of the Rev. Al Sharpton, said the battle over judicial voting in Terrebonne Parish represents one of the many struggles for equality since the end of slavery.
“What you see in Terrebonne Parish is the continuation of the struggle,” Glasgow said. “What we have seen in this victory is that when they tried to do this gerrymandering, Terrebonne Parish said, ‘Not I.’”
NAACP President Jerome Boykin said the state continues to waste taxpayer dollars fighting the judge’s decision instead using the time to focus on a way to remedy the problem.
“About three weeks ago the attorney general and governor’s lawyer came to Terrebonne Parish to have a private meeting with all the white elected officials,” Boykin said. “No black elected official was invited to that meeting. We won the court case, but instead of the governor and Attorney General’s Office coming to Terrebonne to meet with both sides they go visit with the losing side. We have a serious problem in Terrebonne Parish and it’s going to take everyone in this room to help educate our people on what needs to happen.”
Another one of King’s nephews in attendance, the Rev. Derek King, compared Terrebonne’s battle for a minority judicial district to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise during an enemy attack.
“It’s looking bad for the Enterprise, and I’m on the edge of my seat wondering what they’re going to do to get out of this one," Derek King said. “All of a sudden the screen goes black. At the bottom of the screen it says ‘to be continued.’ When Dr. King fell, the screen went black. White supremacists, racists and neo-Nazis rejoiced. They thought it was over, but they didn’t watch the screen long enough. They didn’t see ‘to be continued.’ Here we are in Terrebonne Parish in 2017 making sure the work will go on.”
--Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 857-2202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@DanVCopp.