On Friday, Feb. 21, the African American Civil War museum hosted Voices from the Civil Rights Movement. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the host, Chuck Hicks, assembled a panel of seven local members to share their stories of plight and perseverance.
In an intimate vibrant venue, the crowd enjoyed refreshments as Frank Smith, former member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, delivered the opening words. Local singer Royale Height sang the legendary “A change is gonna come,” by the late Sam Cooke. The song was released nearly 50 years ago, and quickly picked up by the Civil Rights Movement.
Author and actress, Doris Thomas was the first panelist to speak. She shared a story of a bus trip to a job interview in Washington, D.C. Sitting in the front of the bus; she received stares from all the White patrons. When she looked up and noticed the sign directing “colored people” to the back of the bus, she began to feel anxious. She was surprised this was happening in Washington, D.C., because most thought this was only a Deep South tradition. “It hurt then and it hurt now, when I talk about it, but I’m glad I overcame that and it didn’t make me stop,” she said.
Panelist Michael Vanzant, from Louisiana, talked about being kicked out of Southern University because his father was active in the movement. He later became the first Black student body president for Syracuse.
Panelist Dorie Ladner shared her heartache over the Florida trial of Michael Dunn, the man accused of murdering a Black, teenage boy over his loud music. “The verdict reminds me of Emmett Till,” Ladner said. The murdered boy was one year younger than Till.
The program served as a collection of voices to tell a story from live people. Two generations removed from the Civil Rights movement, the intent was to ensure that the message never fades. “When people think of the Civil Rights Movement, they think about people marching and picketing,” Hicks said. “I wanted people to know that there is a whole wide range of experiences in the Civil Rights Movement. They think about the south. Well the Civil Rights Movement was out in California with the Black Panther Party. The Civil Rights Movement was in Chicago. It was … all over the country.”