By Agnese Cikule
Civil rights activist and an eyewitness of major Civil Rights Movement events shared her experience on Monday, September 21, and said that there are, even after all these years, problems that have not been resolved in U.S.
“Even today there is still a long, long way to go,” Joanne Bland said, expressing her hope for today’s generation.
Bland has presented at conferences and workshops traveling around the U.S. On Oct. 12, she spoke at Schofield auditorium on the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire’s campus. Her speech was attended by 142 people, according to organizers. The speech was a part of Risking Everything: History and Civil Conversations, a month-long series of events that bring the attention to Civil Rights Movement.
Bland is a civil and human rights activist, a witness and participant in some of the nation’s most consequential civil rights battles, Bland’s homepage states. She was one of the youngest activists – by the time she was 11 years old, she was already arrested 13 times for her participation in the movement.
Bland mostly spoke about the Civil rights events of 1965 and her involvement in them. She was an eyewitness of some of the most important events of that year – Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday and the March from Selma to Montgomery.
She still remembers her sister’s blood, dripping on her face and the screams of others, who were beaten on Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. Her older sister Linda was an activist and brought her younger sister along.
On Turnaround Tuesday, Bland and her sisters participated in the same march to Selma, that the day before had ended with policemen beating the marchers. “I was scared, but I went,” Bland said.
Bland mentioned that the struggle was not over, after the Voting Rights Act was signed in August 1965.
“It’s not just good enough to vote,” Bland said. “The same people who tried to keep us from voting, were the ones who registered our votes.”
The questions of the audience led Bland to speak about the problems that her hometown – historical Selma faces today because of the poor “Industrial, tourism and school system.”
“I love Selma,” she said, adding that it “has the potential to grow.”
The audience wanted to know what Bland thought about the 2014 movie “Selma.” Bland acknowledged it for being well directed, but could not agree on most of the facts presented in the movie.
A former professor of UW-Eau Claire, Dr. Dale Taylor, attended Bland’s speech and shared his thoughts about the importance of it.
Taylor said that “For people to hear first-hand accounts of the violence, you can almost feel as though you were there, it paints the picture of what she actually saw, experienced and felt – herself and her relatives. Many of us know that what we been taught do not represent the reality of what it was like. We don’t very often get anyone who was actually there telling us how different it was.”
Bland made the audience feel comfortable with her simple way of telling her story, telling jokes and answering the questions that the audience had. The speech ended with the advice from Bland: “Everybody has a piece; if your piece is missing then the picture is not complete (..).”