Raleigh march expected to draw 10,000

This article was originally published in the Reflector:

Organizers of a large annual civil rights march in Raleigh expect a large crowd today even though the effort’s leader has fallen ill.

Participants in the 12th Moral March on Raleigh will gather at 9 a.m. at the Duke Energy Performing Center and walk to Jones Street for a rally at the state Legislative Building. The march may have to go on without the Rev. William Barber, founder of the Moral Monday movement. Barber said he may be too sick to attend in person and if so, plans to address the crowd remotely.

The Rev. Anthony Spearman, who became president of the state chapter of the NAACP in October, will lead march. Barber is scheduled as the second-to-last speaker, followed by Spearman.

Organizers on Friday also screened an episode of the Oxygen Network’s “Final Appeal,” which focused on the 1995 murder conviction of Dontae Sharpe in Greenville. Sharpe has maintained his innocence and refuses to seek parole because he would have to admit guilt.

Sharpe, with support of the NAACP and other groups, has been trying to clear his name and the case has requested consideration by the governor and attorney general.

“Dontae Sharpe should have never been arrested,” Spearman said. “He should never have been forced to choose between truth and freedom. He ought to have been working in his community, voting in his precinct, showing by his strong example how young men and women can organize to change the system, not get trapped in it. The NC NAACP State Conference and the Pitt County NAACP will not rest until this man of truth is free, working as a leader in our community.”

The television show was screened at Rush Metropolitan AME Zion Church to kick off the march events.

Other speakers today include David Goodman, the brother of Andrew Goodman, who was 20 years old when he and two other civil rights activists were ambushed and killed by Ku Klux Klansmen during Freedom Summer. Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney had been investigating the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi, when they were killed June 21, 1964.

Their slayings helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Before the march begins, a pre-rally will focus on young people, who will speak from a stage, Spearman said.

Barber, a speaker who meshes current events, history and religious passages in his calls for actions, is a difficult act to follow, but Spearman said he’s not nervous.

“I stand in my own personality, first and foremost,” said Spearman, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms. “When someone tells me that I have big shoes to fill, I say ‘I will fill the shoes I’ve been filling.‘ I’m not attempting to be someone else. I will give what I can give and do what I can do and give the best that I can give to the movement. “

Barber founded the “Moral March on Raleigh” in 2007, when Democrats still dominated North Carolina’s Legislature and held the governor’s seat. It has largely focused state government, especially against the conservative-leaning agenda that Republicans implemented.

This year’s march is billed as a “moral resistance” that moves from the streets to the ballot box.

The permit application says the estimated crowd size is 10,000 people. Last year, the application estimated 20,000.