Fighter of Black Civil Rights Shines Light On Expanded Rights For All

Civil Rights legend talks about the gains and work still ahead for people of color.

Augusta, GA – Three local institutions of higher learning held a birthday celebration fit for a king.  Augusta University, Paine College and Augusta Technical College celebrated what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 86th birthday.  The event included a combined choir with members from all schools and moments of spiritual reflection.

Keynote speaker Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, who became an icon for her work during the Civil Rights Movement despite being a white woman, told the group she took up the cause because it was the right thing to do.

“I went to church regularly and memorized all those bible verses that have you memorize about doing to others as you would have them do unto you and love thy neighbor as thyself and how to treat people and how to live.  I could see that we were just a pack of hypocrites.  We did not practice what we preached,” Mulholland said.

Mulholland participated in more than three dozen sit-ins and protests.  She’s a former Freedom Rider who was on death-row in Mississippi and she helped plan and organize the March on Washington.

Mulholland’s work shaped history in the south and across the country.

Now, many are saying gay rights are the new civil rights.

A bill just introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives is getting some attention.

House Bill 756 is known as the Religious Freedom Bill.  If it becomes law, it would give small businesses the right to not participate in a religious ceremony if it goes against what they believe.

Mulholland, who hails from Virginia and was educated at Tougaloo College in Mississppi, a Historically Black College, told the group underline racism is still here.  She told News Channel 6 a poster she once read explains why no one should be exempt.

“Y’all means all.  It’s that simple and around the edges it spelled out all the possible groups, by color, by religion and by sexual orientation.  Y’all means all,” she said.

Mulholland joins several who feel gay rights should be expanded to modern day civil rights.  That’s exactly how Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham feels about House Bill 756.  He said the religious freedom bill singles out same-sex couples for harm, and that’s wrong.

“We all believe in the freedom of religion, and that’s why we must work to protect all Georgians – including people of faith and LGBT people,” Graham said.  “Planning a wedding is a joyous life event – no one would want to face discrimination as they plan to make a lifelong commitment to their loved one in front of all their friends and family.”

Mulholland agrees.

“Hey the guy that was the master mind and the chief organizer of the March on Washington was gay, Bayard Rustin. So, this is not breaking news.”

Graham also said some businesses do not support the bill.

“HB 756 simply doesn’t represent the needs of small business owners or our values here in Georgia. We know that, nationally, one-third of small business owners don’t think it’s right to deny services to gay and transgender people based on religious beliefs. And just last week, more than 100 businesses from across Georgia came together to promote non-discrimination.  Bills like this hurt our state’s reputation and stymie our growth. It’s time for state lawmakers to listen to the people of faith, business leaders and others who are all calling for legislation that protects all Georgians,” Graham explained.

But State Representative Barry Fleming said House Bill 756 does not do that at all.

“A small business cannot be forced to participate in a religious ceremony that they find is against their religious beliefs,” Rep. Fleming said.  “If you had a Jewish deli you couldn’t be forced to cater a Muslim wedding if you found that some of the foods you had to prepare or some of the things that would go on there would be offensive to your religious beliefs.”

“It doesn’t stop the Muslim from walking into the Jewish deli and eating,” he said.

House Bill 756 was just introduced this week.  Many lawmakers are just now reading it and understanding it.  It will take some time before it reaches the Governor’s desk.

Senator Harold Jones weighed in on the measure. He said this bill, which at first glance he does not plan to support, businesses should not be able to discriminate against persons who marry the same sex.   He said the bill is definitely aimed at same-sex marriage.

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