— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — More than 100 protesters braved the hot Alabama sun on the steps of the state capitol Friday to show their support for the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of the month on whether to uphold sections 4b and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Officials in Shelby County said the sections of the act are outdated and should be changed.
Speaker after speaker expressed concern that an adverse ruling from the court could set back many of the positive steps that blacks have taken, particularly in regard to the right to vote.
The sections require Shelby County and communities in 16 other states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain preclearance from the U.S. Justice Department before making any changes to voting procedures or electoral maps.
Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan spoke on the Capitol steps and at rallies earlier Friday in Birmingham, Selma and in Shelby County. Farrakhan said participating in the rallies has "been a very powerful experience."
He was introduced by a number of state and regional black leaders.
"You don't want to let anyone turn us around on this," said Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele, a former Alabama state senator.
"Don't be afraid to go to jail for this," Steele said of efforts to preserve the Voting Rights Act.
Alabama Board of Education member Ella Bell stood in the hot sun and wondered what life for her and others would be like without the Voting Rights Act.
"We came too far to win our right to vote to lose it now," Bell said.
Critics of the visit by Farrakhan included Alabama Republican Party chairman Bill Armistead, who called Farrakhan a "radical hate monger."
Farrakhan talked about the continued need for the Voting Rights Act and praised organizers of the event for inviting him despite the criticism.
Earlier Friday, Farrakhan crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, site of the "Bloody Sunday" voting rights march in Selma. Farrakhan rode in a car across the bridge Friday while marchers walked alongside.
"While I was crossing the bridge I was thinking of those who went before us," he said.