4 September 2008 Edition

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Walking in the steps of the Civil Rights marchers

1968-2008: President McAleese to address international conference on Civil Rights anniversary

THE original route of the world-famous Civil Rights march of October 1968 will be retraced next month as part of a weekend of events in Derry including an international conference addressed by President Mary McAleese.
The conference, in Derry City’s Guildhall over Saturday and Sunday, 4/5 October, will also hear other speakers, including Kadar Asmal, Professor of Human Rights at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
The march takes place on the Saturday.
DALE MOORE looks back at the original Civil Rights march and its significance for the struggle for justice and equality 40 years on.


ON 5 October 1968, a Civil Rights march gathered on Duke Street in Derry’s Waterside area to walk to Derry’s Guildhall.  The marches demanded very basic civil liberties such as one person/one vote, the right to work, and proper housing.
In any normal society these are rights were usually taken for granted but in the six-county statelet, under unionist control, to demand these basic rights threatened the very fabric of the society formed out of partition.
Formed in 1921, it clearly stated that this was a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people where Catholics were treated as second-class citizens who had no civil rights and this was no more so than in Derry.
Derry, which had a majority nationalist population, was ruled through gerrymandering by a unionist corporation where the vast majority of its Catholic citizens were forced to live in electoral wards that elected fewer councillors than the minority Protestant population.
These nationalist wards were overcrowded to a point where several families lived together in two-bedroom or three-bedroom houses and where male unemployment was rife.
This was endemic of the problem of this statelet where the Unionist Party and Orange Order reigned supreme. Any challenge to the status quo was met with the full might of the RUC and the B-Specials, the unionist-dominated, armed militia.
Throughout the 1960s, across the North a more educated population was emerging that was inspired by the American civil rights protests and people decided to take a stand.
The Civil Rights Association was formed and a march was planned for Derry on 5 October to highlight their grievances. The Stormont Government moved quickly to ban the march. The organisers decided to go ahead and the RUC turned up in force to prevent it going ahead.
As on previous occasions where the authority of the state had been challenged, the RUC attacked the marchers.
However, this time a large media presence with relatively new technology for the time meant the scenes of peaceful civil rights marchers being attacked by the RUC were broadcast across the globe, exposing the brutal nature of the Unionist Party state, in Western Europe and under British rule. There would be no putting the genie back into the bottle and the rest, as they say, is history.
As we approach the 40th anniversary of that historical event in Derry, we should not delude ourselves that civil rights are now part and parcel of everyday life. Every day, across the island, someone is suffering, whether it be through racial violence, domestic violence, homophobia or oppressive state legislation or action.
Basic housing, healthcare and education is becoming more and more the preserve of the wealthy as the rights and opportunities of the working class are eroded.
Sinn Féin, however, will continue to fight and ensure that the equality agenda is to the fore of our political revolution.  We are determined that all the children of the nation are treated equally. We are encouraging everyone to not only participate in the weekend of Civil Rights events but to make equality the watchword by which they live their lives.


IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS: At the launch of the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Weekend in Derry are Sinn Féin Councillor Peter Anderson, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, Paddy ‘Bogside’ Doherty, Martina Anderson MLA , Councillor Elisha McLaughlin, Jane Coyle (wife of the late Vinny Coyle), Councillor Kevin Campbell and Raymond McCartney MLA 

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