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NAACP speaker stresses need to vote

Posted: May 10, 2012 2:02 p.m.
Updated: May 11, 2012 5:00 a.m.
Miciah Bennett/C-I

Local and state officials joined Hilary O. Shelton (center), director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and senior vice president of advocacy and policy, for the 26th annual Freedom Fund Banquet sponsored by the Camden-Kershaw County Branch of the NAACP.

Voting will change lives, said Dr. Lonnie Randolph Jr., president of South Carolina State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

Randolph emphasized the importance of voting before he introduced guest speaker Hilary O. Shelton at the Camden-Kershaw County Branch of the NAACP’s 26th annual Freedom Fund Banquet, held Saturday at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Camden.

“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote,” Randolph said during the banquet. 

Three out of South Carolina’s 46 counties voted at a rate of 60 percent or higher during the last (2008) presidential election than in 2004, Randolph said. Kershaw County was one of those three. 

“W.E.B. Dubois said ‘The cost of liberty is less than the cost of repression,’” Randolph said later during an interview. “Most people don’t participate because of ignorance, but all segments of the community need to be involved.”

He and Shelton said people must keep the issue of voting at the forefront all the time. 

“He is one of the most courageous men I’ve met,” Randolph said of Shelton. “He has compassion for all people ... and is indeed a man of character.”

Shelton is the director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and is senior vice president for its Advocacy and Policy division. The NAACP Washington Bureau is “the federal legislative and national public policy division of the (more than) 500,000-member, 2,200-membership unit, national civil rights organization,” according to Shelton’s biography. He advocates the NAACP’s federal public policy issue agenda to the U.S. government. Some of Shelton’s portfolio includes civil rights enforcement, voting rights protection and equal employment protection. Prior to his work with the NAACP, Shelton worked with The College Fund/United Negro College Fund and The General Board of Church & Society, a United Methodist Churches' social justice advocacy agency. 

“Citizenship doesn’t come easy; African-Americans knew the price of freedom .… We’ve had a leadership that says ‘I’m here and ready to fight.’ They knew sacrifice, even though their lives were on the chopping block,” Shelton said. “We’ve changed a lot, but let us not forget. We’ve got work to do and that means we are going to have to lock arms.”

The Camden-Kershaw County Branch NAACP organized in 1945 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Camden, just 36 years after the national NAACP formed. Upon its creation, the Camden-Kershaw County NAACP became active in voter registration and has continued to “remain active” not only in elections, but in the Black Caucus and anything that pertains to the rights of its members. The NAACP is a 501(c)(3), non-partisan organization. During the last two elections, the branch set up various voter registration tables around the county, door-to-door “Get Out To Vote” campaigns and election-day transportation to those in need. 

Shelton said the NAACP concerns itself with a president’s plans, not his party’s. “How do you vote on our issues?” is a question he suggested minorities ask when considering a candidate for any election.

The main concern for this year’s elections is the photo ID bill. The bill has been compared to poll taxes, which were used after Reconstruction to keep African-Americans from voting. The photo ID bill is “disingenuous,” Shelton said, adding that the bill has the most effect on elderly and young voters -- two groups, he said who, along with the working class, that could be hurt the most by not voting.

“There are problems with the voter system, but IDs won’t fix them,” Shelton said.

He suggested an accurate and unified system that would allow for a more accurate purge of the system using death certificates to remove the deceased from registration lists. A more unified state system would even help keep people -- the working poor, for example, who may have to move more often -- from being on a list in multiple areas. Voters ages 18 to 24 voted in record numbers in the 2008 presidential election, but “blinked,” along with everyone else, in the 2010 election, Shelton said. One vote can make a difference, he said, and constituents should have an ongoing relationship with their elected officials.

Pastor William B. Gaither, president of the Camden-Kershaw County Branch NAACP, thanked Shelton, Randolph, sponsors, partners and NAACP lifetime-members for their involvement in the struggle for freedom and justice during the banquet. Churches, members of the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees, Kershaw County Council members, Camden City Council members, State Rep. Laurie S. Funderburk, State Sen. Vincent Sheheen and community business sponsored the event.

The Camden-Kershaw County NAACP branch meets on the first Thursday of each month at various locations in Kershaw County.


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