By Nick Schauer
“Movements for social change are like jigsaw puzzles,” Bland said “Everybody represents a piece. Without your piece, the change puzzle would not be complete”
Co-founder and former Director of the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute, Joanne Bland spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Monday night. There were nearly 140 people in attendance at the Schofield auditorium according to organizers.
Bland spoke about her involvement in the Civil Rights movement and her desire for social change.
Bland grew up in Selma, Al during a pivotal moment in civil rights history.
She marched as a child foot solider during Bloody Sunday in Selma, Al. She was only 11 years old at the time and had previously been arrested 13 times. Having witnessed the extreme violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, Bland spoke about the injustices they faced while pursuing the right to vote.
“The thing I remember the most, was the screams.” Bland said “Violence has no place in our society. Violence has no place in our world, because you get nothing out of it.”
After police denied the passage of the demonstrators they sent a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King. With Dr. King came money, motivation, and the media according to Bland. These were the key elements their cause needed to spark interest.
“We’ve been marching since the 30s and nobody knew.” Said Bland.
Bland remembers returning to the bridge with King and being met by a line of police for a second time.
“I didn’t want no more freedom” Bland said, “It wasn’t worth it.”
The fear of Bloody Sunday had traumatized her so much she was ready to give up.
Receiving a court order granting the demonstrators safety King was able to successfully lead the march from Selma to Montgomery. Six months later President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.
Even after law passed allowing blacks to vote, there was still injustice, according to Bland.
“In Selma, the same people keeping us from the right to vote, were the same people counting the votes.” Bland said.
Bland was well received by the audience Monday night and took questions at the end of her lecture. Questions ranged from support of social change groups to critiques of Hollywood’s portrayal of Selma. She also spoke out in opposition to the proposed renaming of Edmund Pettus Bridge. “When you start to rewrite names, you start to rewrite history.” Bland said.
Bland also spoke about how the media presents black culture and its impact on the population. The Million Man March has received little media exposure in the Midwest and Bland urged students to do something about it. “It’s not the medias job to get the message out, it’s yours.” Bland said.
UWEC Instruction and Outreach Librarian Eric Jennings says that hosting Bland is a great opportunity for students. “To bring in somebody from the outside, who actually took part in that (Civil Rights Movement), who has strong opinions on her experience, but also contemporary issues, I think it’s really important.” Jennings said.
“I have hope there’s a generation of people out here that will change it, once and for all.” Bland said.