RALEIGH, N.C. — Members of a traveling Occupy group met Thursday with civil rights leaders in Greensboro and announced marches reminiscent of the one in Selma in the 1960s in an unusual confluence of interests of blacks and the mostly white anti-Wall Street movement.
Walkupy protesters marched from a campus statue on North Carolina A&T State University to the International Civil Rights Museum, where the co-founders met them for a news conference. The Walkupy protesters, who are walking from the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., to his gravesite in Atlanta, called on citizens to join them March 23 and march to statehouses across the country.
They called on people to find out whether their legislators work for the voters or for corporations.
The February One statue where the march began Thursday honors the four young A&T students who led the lunch-counter sit-in at Woolworth's that began Feb. 1, 1960, and led to the desegregation of that shop and to other non-violent protests across the South. The Greensboro march seems like a calculated strategy to attract blacks to the Occupy movement, said museum co-founder Melvin "Skip" Alston.
"I'm not sure where the disconnect might have started from the beginning, but better late than never," Alston said. "Their cause is addressing the things that African-Americans are concerned with — more than just African-Americans, 99 percent of Americans as a whole."
Some blacks have supported the Occupy movement. The Rev. Jesse Jackson addressed the group in Atlanta, while singer Kanye West visited protesters in New York's Zucotti Park. Hip hop artists also have shown up at Occupy Oakland protests in California.
But minorities haven't embraced the movement as much as some whites, even though the unemployment among blacks was 15.5 percent in November, more than twice that of whites — 7.6 percent. And the Pew Research Center found that from 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66 percent among Hispanic households and 53 percent among black households, compared with just 16 percent among white households.
Museum co-founder Earl Jones said at the news conference that blacks do support the goals of the Occupy protesters.
"Make no doubt that the African-American community throughout this nation supports the principles and goals of this movement, which are centered around economic disparity," Jones said.
The Occupy protests have touched a populist nerve and will resonate in the black community, he said earlier. "The issue of the 20th century was race," Jones said. "The issue of the 21st century is going to be class. And you're beginning to see that."
Blacks and the Occupy protesters share common goals, Alston said.
"You can ask that of a lot of people: Where were they?" he said. "They're here now and we should appreciate that and build on it. We don't have the time and luxury to point fingers now at people trying to help our causes."
The protesters are calling for the marches "to keep the reality of economic inequality front and center in the national dialogue during election year 2012," said Walkupy member Paul Sylvester. "We seek to evict corporate lobbyists and corporate-funded elected officials who now occupy the people's statehouses."
Nathan Stueve, who's marching with Walkupy, said he believes there's some validity to criticism about the lack of minority support for the Occupy movement. The march into Greensboro isn't focused on civil rights but on a national call for action for all Americans, he said.
"We're seeking to unite all Americans on issues of economic inequality," Stueve said. "African-American communities have borne the brunt much harder and much longer. This is an opportunity for all Americans to recognize we have a common cause and we're suffering from common injustices and can change things for the better."
The walk itself, however, draws on the protests of civil rights actions, he said. "This is an echo of what happened in the civil rights movement as far as Selma," said Stueve, 32, of Springfield, Mo. "The idea of holding it at Greensboro is to create an echo of the past and form a link of continuity into the future."
The Occupy Wall Street protests began with general complaints include income inequality and the role that banks and big businesses played in the global financial crisis. Alston said he likes that the Occupy movement seems to be trying to define its message and focus on inequalities in the economic system but says its supporters have more work to do if they hope to emulate the successes of the civil rights movement.
"Now you've got the country's attention," he said. "What do you want us to do?"
Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc
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