(Greg Garrison) Led by conservative activist and talk show host Glenn Beck, more than 20,000 people chanting “All Lives Matter” marched the historic civil rights route from Kelly Ingram Park to Birmingham City Hall this morning.
“It’s about taking our church out in the streets,” Beck said. He said marchers came from as far away as China, Dubai and the Netherlands.
Actor Chuck Norris, a conservative activist known for his martial arts, action movies and TV show “Walker, Texas Ranger,” marched about two rows behind Beck. Alveda King, a niece of civil rights activist the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., marched in the front row. Bishop Jim Lowe, pastor of the predominantly black Guiding Light Church in Birmingham, co-organized the march with Beck and marched with him at the front. As a child, Lowe attended Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where the march started, a headquarters church for the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Lowe and his sisters were in the church when a KKK bomb blew up the church and killed four little girls on Sept. 15, 1963.
“Love is the answer,” Lowe said as he marched. “God is the answer.”
Some Birmingham police officers said the crowd could have been as large as 25,000 to 30,000. It may have been the largest march in Birmingham since the civil rights marches of 1963.
As the lead marchers passed City Hall and approached the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, the end of the crowd extended back south on 18th Street to where the group turned north off Sixth Avenue North.
They held “All Lives Matter” signs and others such as “Justice” with a picture of Abraham Lincoln. A blimp flew overhead with the Twitter hashtag and slogan “#All Lives Matter.” T-shirts carried that theme and “Never Again is Now.”
The march was part of Beck’s “Never Again is Now” campaign to raise funds to aid awareness and funds for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
More than 10,000 of Beck’s fans registered, at $12 each, to attend a “Restoring Unity” rally at the BJCC Legacy Arena today at noon. Beck and Lowe were among the speakers. Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight made an appearance, leading the crowd in the pledge of allegiance. Voight portrays Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in the movie “Woodlawn,” which was filmed in Birmingham last year and will be shown at the arena tonight at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12.
Voight also took the stage to sing and dance with the Guiding Light Church choir. “I was standing out there with Glenn,” Voight said after coming onstage.
“I started dancing back there, because this is my favorite music,” Voight said. “‘Worthy of the glory, worthy of the power.’ It’s so wonderful, so I said, ‘I want to get up there.’ And so Glenn, he says, ‘Go ahead.'”
Voight added: “That’s the first time I was ever part of a gospel group.”
Voight said he was going to share the stage with Norris, who he called an old friend, but Norris said his wife felt ill after the march and he had to take care of her.
Rafael Cruz, father of Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, marched and led a prayer at the rally. “I wasn’t sure about the son and then I met the father,” Beck said at the rally. “That tree has deep, deep roots.”
Beck supporters have been swarming downtown Birmingham since Friday. More than 5,000 attended a rally at Guiding Light Church on Friday night, with Beck and Lowe speaking.
Wearing a Yankees cap, Steve Titus of Chicago, 63, and his wife, Terri, 62, wore red, white and blue clothing.
“As chaotic as our country is right now, the history of this city will help us to unify, racially and spiritually,” Titus said. “It’s really in the spirit and words of Martin Luther King Jr.”
“The United States has really become divided,” Terri Titus said. “We want life for everybody. How does it feel to have a movement start in your town? It’s happened again.”
The Rev. Wiley Drake, a Southern Baptist pastor from Buena Park, Calif., and chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, took part in the march and said Baptists should stand with Beck, a Mormon, to fight for the moral direction of the nation.
“I consider him to be a brother in Christ,” Drake said. “I don’t agree with Glenn Beck’s religion, but I’m a Baptist and he probably doesn’t agree with my religion. We’ve got to get beyond denominations and being divided.”
Paul Jablonowski, 46, who works for the U.S. Department of Defense in Huntsville, brought a shofar, the ram’s horn used to signal the start of the Jewish High Holy Days.
He blew the trumpet from the top steps of the BJCC Legacy Arena as the crowd arrived. “I believe it does something in the spirit,” Jablonowski said. “It invites the Lord to do his work.”
Dave Haibach, 67, of Campbellsville, Ky., and Jablonowski attended Beck’s “Restoring Honor” event in Washington, D.C., several years ago.
“This is even greater,” Haibach said. “Glenn Beck keeps getting deeper into his message. He is a watchtower for us. I praise God for him.”