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By Danielle Propst, managing editor
Photos by Lincoln Purvis
Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader.
Rosa Parks refused to give up her
seat. Frederick Douglass spoke
against slavery. These three people
all had an impact on the civil rights
movement in different ways, but
they all shared one thing in common:
they had a dream; a dream that there
would be equality for all. Joanne
Bland shares that dream.
Bland, who came to William Woods
Jan. 16 as part of the President’s
Concert and Lecture Series, is a part
of black history month, though she’s
not as well known as King or Parks.
When she was a child, Bland’s
mother died from a toxic pregnancy in the halls of an all white hospital
because the doctors refused to treat her. From then on, Bland was determined
to make a difference. And that she did.
Bland attended freedom fighting meetings where she learned, or attempted
to learn, the disciplines of nonviolence. She couldn’t vote, so she and others
knelt on the steps outside of the courthouse and prayed to God that “He’d lift
the hearts of the evil men.” After doing this several times, she was arrested.
By the time she was 11, Bland had been to jail 13 documented times. She was
never in a cell with fewer than 40 people crammed into it. But, this couldn’t
keep them down.
“They tried to break our spirits, but we were as low as
we could go,” Bland said.
In March 1965, as a young girl, Bland took part in the
Selma to Montgomery marches led by Dr. King.
The first march took place on March 7 and later
became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Marchers were
attacked with billy clubs and tear gas by state and
local police.
Despite this, Bland carried on. The next Tuesday,
the day of the second march, thousands of protestors
turned around after crossing the Edmund
Pettus Bridge.
Bland thought back to that day in 1965 and the last
thing she remembered was seeing a horse and a lady.
She doesn’t remember how it happened, but to this
day, she can still hear the sound of the lady’s head
hitting the pavement.
Bland wanted to turn around for fear of being beaten,
but after her father reassured her that they were safe
because Dr. King was there, she continued on.
A judge signed an order to get protection on the last
leg of their march, and Bland and the other protest-
ers were guarded by the same police that had beaten
them days earlier on their 54-mile trek from Selma
to Montgomery.
The marches shed new light on the public’s opinion
of the civil rights movement. Images of law enforce-
ment beating the nonviolent protestors were shown
all over the world and set into motion the Voting
Rights Act.
“What happened in Selma not only changed Selma,
but the entire nation. I’m proud to stand here and
say I was part of it,” Bland said.
But, Bland says, the fight is not over. There are new
challenges to face today.
In the 1960s, there was a clear line between blacks
and whites. Today, she said, everything affects everyone.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Everybody has a part in putting it together and
when there is a piece missing, the picture isn’t complete.”
Bland’s advice: be selfish. Make the world a better place for the people you
love, because as she says, no matter what you do, no matter who you are,
it’ll affect her grandbabies in Selma.
So, she leaves you with this thought: “Someone died for you to have those
rights. Someone died for you and didn’t even know your name. They knew
you were coming and wanted to make a better world for you. Now what are
you going to do?”
the Hoot
Members of the step team of a University of Missouri fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha,
perform at WilliamWoods in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.