Selma, Ala., close to home for one civil rights activist

By Justin Dade

Joanne Bland speaks to students and members of the community at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Photo © Justin Dade

Joanne Bland speaks to students and members of the community at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Photo © Justin Dade

A participant in the Selma marches of 1965 has belief in the current generation to spark change after speaking of her involvement in the voting rights movement in her speech at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

“When I crested that bridge and I saw those policemen lined up all the across all four lanes, I knew we were not going to Montgomery” Bland said in her description of her experiences on the day of Mar. 7, 1965, also known as Bloody Sunday.

Bland was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that day, and she says the screams she heard are the thing she remembers most. She was one of the youngest marchers on the bridge that day as the entire group was attacked from all sides.

“Old, young, black, white, male, female, it didn’t matter. They were beating people,” Bland said from her personal account on that day.

Bland spoke as part of the UW-Eau Claire program “Risking Everything: History and Civil Conversation” to discuss the issues of racial equality with students. 140 students and faculty packed into Schofield Auditorium on campus to listen to her story.

Bland grew up in Selma, Alabama and became involved at an early age with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She explained that “marching was fun to me” but it came with its fair share of difficulties. SNCC preached non-violent tactics only, giving no room for any kind of retaliation.

Bland is unique by being involved at such a young age, but she wants to make sure that she wasn’t the only one who was crucial to the movement.

“By the time I was 11 years old, I had gone to jail 13 times, and I wasn’t the youngest.”

Bland said that the jail conditions were very poor, and often had more than 40 people crammed into one cell. The beds often lacked mattresses, and they were served dry beans to eat.

Bland enjoys touring the country to get her story and message out, but she is also the owner of “Journeys For The Soul,” a touring agency that specializes in Civil Rights tours with a major focus in Selma. Bland believes that her experiences have given her an opportunity to be an example, and encourage people of all age, gender, and race to come together.

Claire Gutknecht, a student who attended the speech said “I think it is absolutely imperative and crucial that students learn, because civil rights and movements like the civil rights movement are students’ movements. We are the people who can create a change.” Gutknecht has been to Selma, and plans on going again over spring break this year on the civil rights pilgrimage.

Bland believes that even though there has been a lot of injustice done, she thinks that the generation can provide the change that is needed. While same may not have faith in the youth to bring more change to racial equality, Bland believes the current generation has a big opportunity to promote change.

Bland was very clear in her call to get this generation to promote equality among the races. She explained that “We’ve got to be responsible for our own messages,” and not rely on the media to tell the truth. She believes that technology and social media are important resources that people need to use in order to promote social change.

Bland closed her speech with a version of a popular quote of hers, “Everybody has a piece in the puzzle. If your piece is missing, the picture is incomplete.”


About dadejc

Journalism major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
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