COLUMBIA — Speakers and marchers both called for minorities to not forget how hard civil rights leaders had to fight to gain equality for blacks and others Monday at South Carolina's biggest civil rights rally as the U.S. prepares for a stark change in leadership later this week.
This year's King Day at the Dome rally at the Statehouse was much more subdued than past years and there was a darker vibe in the smaller-than-usual crowd as they prepared for the nation's first black president, Barack Obama, to leave office Friday.
Donald Trump is taking over along with Republican majorities in Congress that many in the crowd fear want to roll back civil rights advances.
"It's going to be different, that's for sure," said Benedict College senior Diamond Moore. "I'm going to give Trump a chance. But I'm also ready to go march."
Speakers reminded the crowd their vote now counts as much as anyone else's and if minorities turned out in force, Democrats could win races in South Carolina. They also told them to call lawmakers and march and protest when they see injustice because those actions have defeated discrimination before.
The rally also missed the charisma of South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph, stepping down because of health concerns.
The event to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and call for social justice started in 2000 when tens of thousands of people came to call for the Confederate flag to be removed from the Statehouse.
Last year's rally after the flag came down permanently was more of a celebration — much as the 2009 rally the day before Obama became president and the 2013 one when the crowd paused so they could see him take the oath of office again.
This year there was much more anger and sadness. Viola Rocker carried a sign with a King quote from a speech he gave the night before his 1968 assassination: "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
She was much less encouraged that the nation was heading in that direction, saying the number of black men killed by police, the hidden racism Obama fought all eight years in office and the willingness of people to vote for such a selfish man to be the next president trouble her greatly.
"It wasn't the emails that beat Hillary Clinton," Rocker said of the unsuccessful 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. "It was the evil males — the same kind of people who beat folks trying to vote and turned fire hoses on civil rights marchers."
U.S. Sen Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Trump's nominee to be U.S. attorney general, received a good amount of criticism. National NAACP board member James Gallman called him repeatedly by his full name that harks back to two Confederate generals — Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.
"Y'all know where that Beauregard came from. And y'all know what he is going to do," said Gallman, calling for protests and calls to senators to block Sessions appointment.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom. Cedric Miles led a small group in singing the gospel song "Better," encouraging the crowd to not give up and keep fighting injustice.
"It doesn't matter who's the president, the next president or the president after that," Miles said. "God is in control, and it's going to get better."