Posted by: MC | March 8, 2012

Civil Rights Remembered in Wisconsin

A year ago, I spoke with Susan Stout (Voice 075), a PhD forester with primary oversight of significant research in the forests of the Allegheny of western Pennsylvania.  Then, yesterday I marched with a small group of people who gathered in the small downtown area of Whitewater, WI.  These things fit together.

Almost 9000 miles down the road, I’m taking a break to visit here in Whitewater for the month.  This is the place where, last winter, I edited and wrote the material that led to the book 100 VOICES — AMERICANS TALK ABOUT CHANGE.  If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’ve spent the last 6 1/2 weeks driving and sharing in the spirit the book’s participants generated — listening and speaking across difference.

Susan Stout (075) spoke of the vital importance of listening when we spoke three years ago.  Yesterday’s march was another version of the same impulse.

On March 7, 1965 — 47 years ago – 500 to 600 civil rights activists led by John Lewis (now a long-time congressman from Georgia) and Reverend Hosea Williams gathered peacefully and walked east on Highway 80 out of Selma.  The protest continued peaceful until the group crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  Alabama state troopers stood in a solid line on the far side of the bridge, many deputized hours earlier following a call by the sheriff to all white men older than 21 to report to the courthouse that morning.  When the commanding officer ordered the protesters to disband and return home, Reverend Williams attempted to speak on behalf of the group.  The officer indicated there was nothing to discuss and within seconds troopers began using force including nightsticks and tear gas to disrupt the march.  Television cameras captured the events which were soon broadcast around the world.  Many people were pushed to the ground, and one woman, Amelia Boynton, was beaten and gassed near death.  In the end 17 protesters were hospitalized and the march was named “Bloody Sunday,” a crucial, terrifying step forward in the fight for Civil Rights that drew the attention of the world.

A group of students from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater travelled together to stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  White and black, Asian-American, Latino(a) – these students shared the intensity of hearing personally from people who had experienced Bloody Sunday firsthand.  They were changed.  They began to speak with one another about race, about racism, about civil rights.  And a year later, some of them organized a march in their small Midwestern town.  A march they named “Remembering Civil Rights.”

Susan Stout (075) began her comments three years ago this way.

I was a freshman in college in 1967-68.  The college I attended had recruited its highest proportion of African American students.  From when we arrived until spring break, there were the beginnings of a conversation about race.  There’s that quote in the Bible about don’t talk about the speck in your friend’s eye until you can address the log in your own.  I think people appreciated that and were really present to the discussion.  Then, over spring break, Martin Luther King was assassinated.  We came back to campus and black people were eating at black tables and white people were eating at white tables.  If that conversation could resume – well, that’s of what change means to me.  We came so far in the Civil Rights Movement.  Now, if we could actually talk about of race and its role in American life that would be real change.

During the march, I walked alongside a Latino administrator from the University.  He told me of his experiences across the years at different colleges and universities.  As he spoke about his time here, a place he plans to stay for a while, he reflected on the very few Latino students, the small numbers of American Indian students and the relatively small African American student body.  “There’s a lot of work left to be done,” he said.  Then he spoke of the interest and enthusiasm of these students in the Midwest – here in college in this rural town.  “This is an important place for awareness and change to take hold,” the administrator said.  And the evidence yesterday was that the willingness to talk about race is still alive.

The marchers, the students who travelled to Selma, Susan Stout (075) and others among the 100 Voices reveal both places and ways to start – to continue on.  Listening across difference fully, carefully – because it is possible to live in support of all of our rights, all of our dignity.

I know I say this a lot.  I say it because I know it is so.  My knowing comes from the evidence – the words of the 100 Voices and the interactions I’ve had in the meantime.

In the end it doesn’t matter what I say – but I do hope you will check these things out for yourself.

And … let me know.

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Responses

  1. I think change will occur when the truth is confronted. The truth shall set us free.

    The Democrat Party was the party of pro-slavery, then pro-segregation, and now pro-government dependence. The Republican Party has always been the party of freedom, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.

    We need to promote individual liberty and personal responsibility in this country. That is the way to peace and prosperity.

  2. As always… Bravo… I truly love perspectives that work, have been applied and are now running through the big brain of mass consciousness like wild fire! In Occupy, the pendulum swings wide enough for diversity and the bandwidth of emotions is being expanded because of it… Having a Tierra and banishing my magic wand instead of the stop / slow sign, I took part in M4rch 4th, a permitted Sunday March, bring awareness to Issues we face and solutions. Starting at the College Park blocks and Bring up the rear with Disco trike, his amp, guitar and three kids in a wagon, we were flanked by 4-7 bicycle cops, dressed like wasps, in yellow and black, helmets and zip ties (light riot gear)… I stopped at one point, turned around and said, my mom would sure like a picture of this and continued Thanking Traffic for waiting over their 4 bike wall…. Real riot gear came from the F29 A.L.E.C March… now I know what breaking a riot line means. Portland not only puts a bird on it but creates diversity of tactics from a new mind set, peace/love revolution ~ both women & men, from 5 generations and across culture are insisting upon it… Watching bully’s learn to lead with more understanding from the winter of “getting to know, getting to know all about you” phase is remarkable, really… Auspicious 2012… I also remember thinking that it could be a good thing that the Republicans won after Clinton. I felt that the Democrats would continue to hide an insidious agenda and the Republicans wouldn’t, they never did….it’s an In your face, kinda thing. Although I do believe that Dick Cheney needs to be held accountable for war crimes against humanity.


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