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History Speaks goes virtual and visits Civil Rights activist JoAnne Bland in Selma, Alabama

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JoAnne Bland on the Edmund Pettus Bridge
“I only knew the movement. I thought every child in America had the same life I did. Played, had fun, went to jail.”
Edmund Pettus Bridge
The OC media team traveled to Selma, Alabama.

History Speaks Visionary and Assistant Dean of Students Gary Jones knew Baugh Auditorium couldn’t be filled for History Speaks in light of COVID-19. But, he recognized the need to continue the treasured tradition of History Speaks.

On February 21 at 6 p.m., the show goes on and another Civil Rights leader tells their story.

Jones organized a trip to Selma, Alabama to speak with JoAnne Bland, Civil Rights activist and one of the youngest participants of Bloody Sunday. Bland, still only 68 years old, vividly remembers the events of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. She marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She stood up for equal rights for African Americans. And she was arrested 13 times by the age of 11. To her, life was normal.

“Activism and activists are new words,” Bland said. “At the time, we were just marching. It’s what we did.”

Her childhood was filled with conflict and tragedy that many of us won’t ever experience. Bland hadn’t known privilege or wealth. Her first arrest was riddled with fear, but also excitement as the school bus that drove her to jail was the first one she was ever allowed to ride. Bloody Sunday vividly lives on in her mind, recalling the graphic violence, tear gas and desperate prayers.

Now, Bland perseveres in the pursuit for civil rights. She’s seen drastic change in her lifetime, but the fight continues.

“You cannot sit back and do nothing,” Bland said. “If you see injustice against someone, you better be on your feet.”
Brown Chapel
JoAnne Bland showed Gary Jones and team around Selma.

When Jones and Bland wrapped up their conversation, she insisted she take him and his OC media team on an impromptu tour around her hometown, giving them a taste of what life was like in Selma in the 60s.

The town is small, but it's home to some of the most historic moments in history. It’s ground zero for voting rights for Black Americans. Edmund Pettus Bridge still stands and cars, locals and tourists cross it every day. Brown Chapel, the starting point of the 1965 Bloody Sunday March, still hosts weekly services. Many buildings are reminiscent of the 60s, another reminder that we are not so far removed from the Civil Rights era.

Understanding the power of persistence, Bland reminds every tour group that comes through that the fight for civil rights persists. She emphasizes that each person has the power to be a change-maker. And she continues to pursue equality herself, keeping history alive.

On February 21 at 6 p.m. CST, Oklahoma Christian University brings you JoAnne Bland’s authentic story straight to your living room. Watch as she and Gary Jones discuss life during and after the Bloody Sunday March, and let Bland take you on a tour of Selma.

Header photo provided by Jazmine Powers Photography.