City Councilor Mary McBride Lee Honored On 50th Anniversary Of Voting Rights Act

Lee, Merrill
Mary McBride Lee and Denise Merrill.

UPDATE: CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart weighs in here

From Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill:

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill today honored Bridgeport Reverend and City Councilor Mary McBride Lee with a citation on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act being signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Reverend Lee is a veteran member of the clergy in Bridgeport and a longtime city councilor who grew up in Selma, Alabama. As a young woman, Reverend Lee marched for voting rights in March of 1965, joining thousands of peaceful protesters in demanding voting rights and enduring a violent crackdown by the Alabama State Police. The brutal police beatings of civilians on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965 on the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma captured live on nationwide television were the catalyst that shook the conscience of the nation and galvanized public opinion behind a federal law to ban discriminatory practices designed to disenfranchise Black voters.

“I am so humbled and honored to pay tribute to the heroes of the great American struggle for civil and voting rights such as Reverend Mary Lee,” said Secretary Merrill, Connecticut’s chief elections official. “The bravery of Reverend Lee’s actions as a young African-American woman in the Jim Crow south fifty years ago when she and others stood up to end discriminatory voting laws is nothing short of profound. Reverend Mary Lee and all of those who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Congressman John Lewis and others from Selma to Montgomery put their lives on the line to preserve the right to vote for all Americans, and we all stand on their shoulders today. We must be forever vigilant to protect this sacred right so that every citizen can be free to choose their government.”

Secretary Merrill honored Reverend Lee at a luncheon today sponsored by the Bridgeport chapter of the NAACP, where she also announced that the 2015 Connecticut State Register and Manual, otherwise known as the “Blue Book,” is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act.

An excerpt of the dedication reads:

“The Voting Rights Act banned states and local jurisdictions from enacting laws that instituted ‘voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right … to vote on account of race,’ color, or language minority status. The act also banned the practice of gerrymandering voting districts in such a way as to intentionally dilute the power of minority voters. The law allowed any American citizen disenfranchised by election laws violating this provision of the Voting Rights Act to sue in federal court to have these laws overturned. The Voting Rights Act established a preclearance process for all new election laws in jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting. Under federal preclearance, before a new voting law could take effect, the federal justice department evaluated it for compliance with the Voting Rights Act. This was a crucial check on state and local governments that had stood in the way of voting rights for black Americans.

Over the ensuing decades, hundreds of state and local voting laws were rejected by the federal Department of Justice after being found to violate the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Right Act of 1965 has accomplished much. Millions of black Americans have cast ballots, changed governments and elected African Americans to office at every level of government. But the law remains at the center of debates around voting in this country. On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court decided Shelby County v. Holder. In a 5-4 decision the court effectively struck down the preclearance section of the Act, asserting that Congress relied on outdated data when renewing the law. The court said the Department of Justice had to show a current pattern of discriminatory intent in the enactment of election law, one which would harm certain groups of voters. If such a pattern were shown, then federal officials could still use the “bail-in” provision of the Voting Rights Act to subject a state or local jurisdiction to preclearance==but only based on current circumstances, not past practice.

To the plaintiffs in the case, the government of Shelby County, Alabama, the 2013 decision represented a vindication that times had changed and Jim Crow was gone. They argued that even though their predecessors had enforced white-only voting for generations, the current local government should not have to continue to pay for the sins of the past. They argued that strong enforcement of the Voting Rights Act by the federal Department of Justice had succeeded in eliminating racist practices in local election administration.

Congressman John Lewis, who had led those peaceful marchers on Bloody Sunday to meet the force of police batons, tear gas and whips, disagreed. He called the Supreme Court’s decision ‘a dagger in the heart of voting access.’

The Voting Rights Act was born of a century of systematic, state-sponsored efforts to deny people of color their constitutional right to vote. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Holder and the statements of some political leaders, vestiges of discrimination in voting arguably remain. After all, four members of the Holder court dissented, and the Act was reauthorized in 2006 by overwhelming, bi-partisan majorities who considered thousands of pages of supporting documentation.

In the immediate aftermath of Holder, several states previously subject to preclearance enacted new laws–like photo identification and proof of citizenship laws–that many assert discriminate against minority voters, the elderly, and the poor. So we can see there is no question that the struggle to perfect our democracy and live up to our national ideals continues.

Our charge as we mark this 50th anniversary since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act is to never forget the violence that met peace in 1965. We simply cannot take voting rights for granted or assume that once we have won a great victory for civil or human rights that the fight is over and settled. We must be forever vigilant and prevent systemic discrimination of any kind in our voting system.

Elections are the means by which we Americans govern ourselves. Those of us in public service–and all citizens–should be doing everything we can to ensure that every citizen who is eligible to vote is able to cast a ballot. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to preserve the right to vote; that we remember the darkest parts of our past; and that we carry on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., Congressman John Lewis, President Lyndon Johnson and the many thousands of others who sacrificed so much so that all Americans could enjoy the constitutional right to vote unfettered.

As President Johnson charged us in the spring of 1965, ‘Let each of us look within our own hearts and our own communities, and let each of us put our shoulder to the wheel to root out injustice wherever it exists.’

It is for those leaders and many others and with the spirit of the continued expansion of voting rights that I gratefully dedicate the 2015 State Register and Manual. We forever owe our predecessors in the civil rights movement a sincere debt of gratitude, and we must always be vigilant to protect those rights and freedoms for which so many fought and died on our behalf. May the Voting Rights Act continue to be strengthened for the next 50 years and beyond by the American Congress and judicial system, and may it be a beacon of freedom and the power of the people to change their circumstances for generations to come.”

The 2015 Blue Book dedication will take place in a formal ceremony at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford this fall.



  1. Congratulations, Mary McBride-Lee. I wonder if all the students in Bridgeport who were taken to see the film “Selma” were aware a local celebrity was part of that historic movement. Thank you for your bravery and perseverance.

    1. “I was very torn yesterday and my heart was broken yesterday,” McBride-Lee told the church audience after Finch had left. “I think I cried more yesterday than I cried in my whole life.”

      There is absolutely no excuse for the mayor’s behavior, or the deplorable actions of Adam “Pecker” Wood, his blockhead chief of staff. Nothing less than a formal apology will do.

  2. The CT Post has published a related story about Mayor Finch’s effort to block Denise Merrill from attending the East End Tabernacle’s event she asked Reverend Lee to organize.

    I assisted with creating the flier and a small group of us stood on the sidewalk outside the Holiday Inn handing them to attendees. Mayor Finch and Denise Merrill got nervous and things got a bit chaotic.

    Mayor Finch took the celebration commemorating a historic event in Black history and tried to have it canceled for purely political reasons. Just because Reverend Stallworth and Reverend Lee are supporting Joe Ganim, Finch pressured Denise Merrill to cancel the event she asked Reverend Lee to organize.

    This is Bridgeport politics at its worst!

    Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Finch has got to go!

    1. Maria,
      Your passing out fliers turned it into a political event. The Holiday Inn was the appropriate place to celebrate her achievement. Why would Mayor Finch want to go to a Ganim lovefest? Meanwhile, and most important Maria, Mayor Finch did go to the event. Most people judge others on their actions and not words. I admire Mayor Finch’s change of heart. I wonder if it was appreciated. You have to ask yourself. Was this a typical Joe Ganim political exercise in creating wedges? Do you think passing out fliers in front of an NAACP event celebrating history was a day well spent? I don’t.

      1. A Ganim “love fest?” What have you been smoking??? The NAACP luncheon was scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Rev. Mary McBride-Lee marched in Selma, Alabama with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., incurring the wrath of a redneck police force and their water hoses, billy clubs and police dogs. She is one of the most revered figures in Bridgeport. Reverend McBride-Lee stood up for civil rights, voting rights and equality. Denise Merrill is beneath contempt for playing politics here. It is outrageously petty she would accede to the wishes of a lame-duck mayor. Claiming she does not want to be “pulled into either side” because it is “politics in Bridgeport” is bullshit. Adam Wood pulled her into it.

        The luncheon at the Holiday Inn and the later event at East End Tabernacle Church were created to honor a woman who risked her life protesting inequality. Bill Finch may well be ignorant of the chicanery that went on behind the scenes. His chief of staff is not. Adam Wood’s behavior reflects poorly on Mr. Finch’s reputation, sinking it lower and lower.

        Joe Ganim was there as an invited guest, as was the mayor. It was the mayor’s office that attempted to cancel the event, out of political considerations.

    2. “We definitely talked to the mayor’s office,” Merrill confirmed Thursday. “They did say they heard a rumor this would be used for political purposes.”

      A rumor. God, my God. You must be joking. I have to wonder if Denise Merrill’s favorite magazines are People, Us, Star Weekly and the National Enquirer.

  3. The individuals who need to be held accountable for turning what should have been a joyous and celebratory event into a political moment are Mayor Finch and Denise Merrill.
    His “change of heart” was driven by the fact the CT Post had already contacted Denise Merrill’s office for comment and we had distributed the flier to well over 100 attendees. Many of those we spoke with expressed anger at how Reverend Lee was treated and how disgraceful Mayor Finch’s actions were.

    I was asked to support Reverend Mary McBride-Lee and that is what I and others chose to do.

    1. It was sad anyone thought you would be the chump to pass out fliers at the NAACP event and anyone who knew the disrespect Stallworth and McBride have shown the Mayor would not question the initial uncomfortable situation. Bottom line, the leader of the city did go to her domain on Ganim’s turf and read a proclamation because he is the Mayor. I thought your choice to pass out fliers at the event made you look silly. You had other stooges with you? Mary McBride asked you to do this? OMG.

      1. Steve,
        Come on. Your shortsightedness is alarming. Adam Wood turned this into a political event. I believe Bill Finch’s claim of ignorance, which is disgraceful–he should be aware of what is being done on his behalf. Mr. Wood dragged the state into events to honor a respected cleric and educator, a woman who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Denise Merrill embarrassed herself and the State of Connecticut.

        It is highly doubtful Reverend Stallworth and Reverend McBride-Lee asked the Ganim campaign to pass out leaflets. They are not stooges, just people who believe in a candidate for elected office.

        You are not one to call the kettle black: many of your posted comments are “mean” and “insulting.” What goes for the goose goes equally for the gander.

  4. Steve, you are referring to people you don’t even know as stooges yet you try to reprimand others on this blog for being “mean” and “insulting.” The choice Reverend Stallworth and Reverend Lee made in supporting Joe Ganim is called democracy. They have a right to support whom they choose. What is insulting is Mayor Finch behaves like a dictator. I and others didn’t look “silly.” Standing up for an injustice is exactly what our past civil rights leaders did, and quite a few attendees entering the hotel agreed Mayor Finch behaved inappropriately.
    I don’t think you have any idea how upset Reverend Lee was.

  5. I’ve know Rev. Lee for nearly 30 years, way before she got involved with local politics. She was a excellent school teacher with young children, she showed them love and she truly cared for them. I never knew anything about her past, her main concerns were her God, her family and those children. Rev. Lee didn’t need to be treated like this by Mayor Finch but that’s Bill Finch the liar.

  6. “But through the state Freedom of Information Act, Hearst Connecticut Media obtained a text exchange between Merrill’s spokesman, Av Harris, and Finch Chief of Staff Adam Wood, who, it is thought, is heavily involved in the mayor’s re-election bid.

    “After much discussion last night we are canceling Thursday’s event,” Harris wrote Wood. “Denise will speak at the NAACP luncheon at the Holiday Inn, but we are not doing the 3 p.m. event at the East End Tabernacle Church. We don’t want to cause any trouble. Hope that helps.”

    “Thank you,” Wood responded. “It is much appreciated.””

    So they heard a rumor the event would be politicized, and made damned sure that’s just what happened. So Adam Wood is punishing the Reverend for not supporting Finch. Why do they pull this sophomoric crap?

    1. It is my understanding Reverend Lee has been flooded with calls of support from members of our community, local, state, and national leaders are apparently quite upset by what transpired.

      I have a feeling this is not over.

  7. Mayor Finch is a petty little man who would try to rain on Reverend Lee’s parade for political purposes. This is an illustrious black woman who has fought for equal rights her whole life and for Mayor Finch to try to upstage her day defies credulity.

    Finch, in an interview Thursday, plead ignorance of any meddling. You got that right, ignorance is as much a part of his life as breathing is to yours and mine.

    1. It is disgusting he would say “I dunno a thing about it.” He holds the highest elected office in the city; one would think he’d have a clue as to what his chief of staff is doing on his behalf. Oh, right: Finch doesn’t really do much of anything other than appear at groundbreakings and such. Adam “Pecker” Wood is Finch’s Dick Cheney, the man who runs things from behind the curtain.

      All we have to do to get rid of Adam “Pecker” Wood is vote Finch out of office.

  8. Steve, you need to grow a thicker hide. Every little negative comment about Bill Finch you take personally and attack the other commentators personally. The First Amendment applies to everything posted here, even your hare-brained rantings about how wonderful the Finch administration has been for Bridgeport.

    It was the mayor’s office and the Secretary of State who politicized this event, not the people passing out flyers on Main Street in front of the Holiday Inn. The attendees had a right to know the mayor and his handlers care more about politics than civil rights. If Bill Finch and Adam “Pecker” Wood had comported themselves with dignity and had even a modicum of respect for the occasion they wouldn’t have made the effort to cancel the event.

    Voter suppression is still a fact of life in other parts of the country (not in Bridgeport, where even the demented and the deceased have voting rights). According to Ari Berman of the New York Times,

    “In 2014 … thousands were turned away by new restrictions in states like Texas and North Carolina. A 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office found that voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced turnout by 2 to 3 percent during the 2012 election, enough to swing a close vote, with the highest drop-off among young, black and newly registered voters.

    “This could be a disturbing preview for 2016, which will be the first presidential contest in 50 years where voters cannot rely on the full protections of the act …”

    So don’t turn these events into “politics as usual.”

    1. Derek, I do not need to grow a thicker hide and I do not insult and demean individuals nearly as much as you. I was the first on this blog to congratulate the Reverend Lee. I know the gameplayers. Ganim, Stallworth and Ganim–if I were the Mayor I would have bypassed the church event also.

      There are guarantees on this blog. You will never have a kind word for Finch. Maria P. will do any act required that puts Mayor Finch in a bad light. She would give a commentary, the Mayor showed up at the Church and everyone ignored him. Look, Stallworth, McBride Lee and Ganim show up at every tragedy in Bridgeport. It is politics, Kid; and it works both ways. The difference between myself and other bloggers including yourself is I can have civil conversations about all the candidates. I have friends working on all campaigns. You Derek, and Maria have nothing kind ever to say about Mayor Finch or his administration. You do not acknowledge any positive activity happening in the city. You guys really suck the life out of people. You are negative like cancer and you both support Ganim. What does that say? Do we live in the same city? You attack me because I acknowledge the best of Bridgeport and I acknowledge the leadership.

      Btw, I will be taking my pro-Finch platform to your neighborhood tomorrow. I will be walking Black Rock from 11-2, maybe I will see you face to face. If I have insulted you or any stooges on this blog, I apologize. I have been insulted and never received an apology. I can deal with it and I think others can also. I am not sensitive and can take it. I am, however, genuine.

  9. The bigger concern and issue is the fact the Supreme Court has weakened the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Congress has done nothing to protect the voting rights in those states that lost that protection.

  10. It was just after high noon Monday. There was Mayor Bill Finch extolling the groundbreaking importance of an all-access playground for disabled children. The news cameras whirred and clicked. A playground for disabled children. Well that’s just nice, that’s just dandy. Maybe the special education students will be able to learn there.

    The Center for Children’s Advocacy filed a complaint with the state Department of Education on behalf of eight special-needs children enrolled in Bridgeport’s public schools, the second in two years. Among the complaints:
    • The case of one special-needs child attending a summer program in the district who for two weeks straight came home with a soaked diaper because no one changed it. When the child’s mother finally went to see what was going on, the only adult in the class was a paraprofessional.

    • The district is accused of failing to provide even minimally required speech and language services to a 17-year-old student at Central High School, who suffered neonatal meningitis as an infant. The condition left him with multiple disabilities including seizures, the inability to speak and limited movement.

    • Another special education classroom was described as failing even to have cots or blankets at nap time, forcing children to rest on a dirty floor. And in a fourth case a 16-year-old with anxiety and emotional issues improperly placed into a special education class where students aggressively acted out because there was nowhere else to put him. He made no educational progress toward his Individualized Education Program goals.

    So everything’s great. Bill Finch cleans up a few parks, builds a few playgrounds that are handicapped-accessible. All the while the school system is failing its special-needs students. It only took an outside advocacy group to raise a little Cain for anyone to notice. Children are among the most vulnerable citizens. If they are not provided with a good education that includes mathematics, science, language and problem-solving skills, what sort of life will they have? The special education students are being neglected. That is shameful and immoral.

    What kind of city do we really want to leave for future generations? The Occupy Wall Street movement will be remembered for stinking up a small park in Lower Manhattan but they did succeed in putting income inequality on the front page. Bill Finch is not the first mayor to give out no-strings-attached tax abatements to developers. He must be the last. The franchisees and corporate interests that OWN Bass Pro Shops, Starbucks, Chipotle Mexican and the upscale movie theater have been given a free ride. Whatever taxes they pay will not cover the cost of sewage disposal, police and fire salaries or any other municipal services. The mil rate was jacked up yet again to pay for something the Finch administration gave to his Gold Coast backers in return for a few thousand dollars in campaign “contributions.”

  11. Weren’t Denise Merrill and her office involved in a cover-up back in February of a falsification of a criminal background report on a well-known Bridgeport political operative who is connected to the Finch and Malloy administrations?

    Wasn’t there supposed to be an investigation and possible charges filed against Ms. Merrill?

    Did all of this just get swept under the rug by the Malloy Administration?


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