1983 NAACP March across Roebling Bridge
Grassroots Campaign to "bury [black] voter apathy" Traces Path of the Underground Railroad
On August 14, 1983, the NAACP and supporters of its mission began a march from Covington, KY, to Detroit, MI. The 360-mile, 3-week march was organized as a call to get Blacks to vote—and get President Ronald Reagan out of office.
The march followed the path that escaping enslaved people had taken on the Underground Railroad, fleeing north to freedom in the days before the Civil War. It began in Covington, because that town symbolized the penultimate stop before enslaved people would ostensibly reach freedom in Ohio. (Though slavery was illegal in Ohio, slaves could still be apprehended due to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.)
The march ended in Detroit, where (now formerly) enslaved people would gather at the Second Baptist Church before crossing the border into actual safety and freedom in Canada.
NAACP executive director Dr. Benjamin Hooks and Georgia legislator Julian Bond marched across the bridge holding a coffin. It symbolized their mission to "bury voter apathy" and get people to care enough to vote.
Hooks said that Black people needed to use their voice to speak to the White House. “Those of us in the outhouse are tired of the way they are carrying on in the White House," he said. "If they don't do any better, they're going to be in the doghouse."
Although they were joined by hundreds along the way (including walkers, dancers, roller skaters, and cyclists), only 12 people made the entire journey from Covington to Detroit. They faced threats by the KKK, but the marchers refused to be swayed, saying they wouldn't go around them if their march was blocked.
Reagan was re-elected in 1984, so the march didn't accomplish that part of its goal. Almost 40 years later, however, the NAACP's other message remains true: voting is power.