Social equality: connections from the past

By Sydney Purpora

Joanne Bland addresses the students of University of Wisconsin Eau Claire on the Civil Rights Movement © Sydney Purpora

Joanne Bland addresses the students of University of Wisconsin Eau Claire on the Civil Rights Movement.
© 2015 Sydney Purpora

A civil rights activist calls college students to action for social change through her life story.

“We’ve come a long, long way,” Joanne Bland said. “We just have so far to go.”

Bland is the co-founder and former director of National Voting Rights Museum Institute in Selma, Ala. Bland spoke at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire’s campus in Schofield auditorium Monday evening. An estimated 140 people attended to listen to her speech on the Civil Rights Movement.

Born and raised in Selma, Ala., Bland experienced the struggles faced during the movement first hand.

Bland has been involved in the Civil Rights Movement since early 1960. By the age of 11 Bland had been arrested 13 times for marching for voting rights since the start of her involvement in civil rights. When arrested, Bland was shoved into a jail cell with no less than 40 others. The jail cells were designed for one or two prisoners.

Bland participated in many marches for this movement including the march from Selma to Montgomery. The emotional torment Bland was put through during these marches has stuck with her all these years.

“I one thing I remember the most, the screams,” Bland said.

Bland explained the violence caused to those on the bridge by police March 9, 1965. Bland’s sister, who was 14 at the time, was beaten that day along with many others.

After the brutal beatings on the bridge, Martin Luther King Jr. applied for a court order to give those involved the legal right to complete the march.

March 21, 1965 was the day the people of Selma, Ala. began their legal march to Montgomery, Ala. The march took five days as participants marched day and night.

King brought what Bland called the three m’s to Selma: money, motivation and media. These features gave the people of Selma the hope they needed to carry on in their journey for civil rights.

The height of the Civil Rights Movement was Aug. 6, 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was signed allowing African Americans the right to vote.

This event along with the many other hardships throughout Bland’s life, provoked her travel around the United States telling her story and encouraging people to continue on in the big march toward racial equality.

At the UW-Eau Claire campus, Bland highlighted how important the pilgrimages to Selma are to illustrate the historic events that took place there.

The audience cheered for Bland and gave her a standing ovation for bravely sharing her story.

Rita Webb, who attended the event, explained the impact of the speech on her life as she gets ready to embark on a civil rights pilgrimage in January. Webb recognized how inspiring it is to the next generation to have a role model like Bland.

“What stood out for me the most was tapping into the experiences of people that lived through it while we still have them with us,” Webb said.

Bland reminded the audience that they are all on the same team, that great work has already been done, but there is still more to come.

“You are the ones,” Bland said. “You ARE the ones. You have to be the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

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