In admiration of his many years of service in the fight against racism and inequality, Sojourn to the Past’s Jeff Steinberg was honored by the CA State Assembly and Senate with a Resolution recognizing the 10th Anniversary of the San Bruno-based organization.  On Monday, August 17th at the State Capitol in Sacramento, he was presented with the Resolution, which was authored by Assembly member Jerry Hill.

Accompanying assembly member Hill on the floor in the presentation to Steinberg were several influential civil rights activists, including Minnijean Brown-Trickey – one of the Little Rock Nine.

Presentation of Resolution 259

Presentation of Resolution to Jeff Steinberg by Assembly members Jerry Hill and Ted Lieu, Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass, and Senators Curren Price & Leland Yee. Also present: Minnijean Brown-Trickey, a speaker on the Sojourn journey and member of the Board of Directors serving Sojourn.

Since the founding in 1999, Sojourn to the Past has fought dedicatedly against racism, injustice, inequality and racially-rooted hatred.  A non-profit organization that relies on the generosity of donors, Sojourn takes thousands of students yearly from the confines of their classroom to experience the history of the Civil Rights Movement, rooted in the Deep South, where a uniquely designed educational experience takes place.  The learning goes eons beyond what a textbook or lecture can do, and creates a life-changing experience to encourage community activism and leadership.

For his integral role in this inspirational program, Steinberg was awarded this honor, which speaks volumes about the enormous contributions he’s made over the years to Sojourn to the Past, students, volunteers, donors, educators and speakers.

At a young age when impressions about culture, society, and history are still being formed, the students who are fortunate enough to embark on this journey are forever changed, and make long-term commitments to strive for social justice and the rights of all humans.  Sojourn to the Past thanks Jeff for his service, and looks forward to the many years ahead that he will be on board this essential mission.

Advertisements

Myrlie Evers-Williams

May 25, 2009

myrlie

 

 

 

 

 

Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams is perhaps best remembered as the widow of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP who in 1963 was gunned down in the driveway of his home in Jackson. In the years since the assassination and two hung juries that left the accused gunman, white supremacist Byron De la Beckwith, a free man, Mrs. Evers has continued to wage a lonely war to keep her husband’s memory and dreams alive and to bring his killer to justice. Her diligence eventually paid off when Beckwith was brought to trial for a third time and finally, in 1994, found guilty of the murder of Medgar Evers, more than 30 years after the crime.

Ms. Evers-Williams is a phenomenal woman of great strength and courage. Her dedication to civil rights and equality is exemplified by her activist role, linking together business, government, and social issues to further human rights and equality. On February 18, 1995, she was elected to the position of Chairman of the National Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With the support of a strong member base of the NAACP, she is credited with spearheading the operations that restored the Association to its original status as the premier civil rights organization.

Evers-Williams says that she “greets today and the future with open arms.” This credo has carried her through years of struggle and success. Her children and six grandchildren remain her strongest supporters in her continued fight to secure equal rights for all people, and to preserve those rights for future generations.

We feel both proud and grateful to have someone such as Ms. Evers-Williams practicing Sojourn Living and fighting for equal rights for all.

Bookmark and Share

Presumed Guilty

May 14, 2009

mack_charles_parker_picMack Charles Parker was arrested for raping a white woman in 1959. A Mississippi state trooper offered his pistol to the woman’s husband so he could shoot Parker on the spot. The husband, Jimmy Walters, knew that his wife was not even certain that Parker was the attacker so he refused the offer and he reminded the officer that there was still doubt.

The Walters’, who had a sense of justice, seemed to be the minority in Poplarville, and there was such a strong cry for revenge against Parker that the judge couldn’t guarantee Parker’s safety. Because of this, the county jailer started burying the jail keys in his backyard at night.

M.C. Parker, at 23, had served two years in the Army and was working as a truck driver when he was arrested for the rape of June Walters. He lived with his mother, brother, sister and nephew in a poor black section of Lumberton, Mississippi and most of his wages were spent on his family. On the night of the rape, he had been out with friends, and it will never be known whether he was innocent or guilty of the crime.

Most white people in Poplarville were convinced Parker was a rapist including a former deputy sheriff who believed that Parker didn’t even deserve a jury trial. He ended up recruiting a lynch mob from men attending a prayer meeting and three days before Parker was to stand trial, eight masked white men dragged him from his jail cell, beat him, shot him in the heart and threw his body in the river, where he was found 10 days later. In addition to the former sheriff, the lynch mob included a Baptist preacher and the jailer, who had been persuaded, after all, to give up his keys. Many people in town were afraid of the mob, and many believed the lynching was justified so no one would offer any information to the FBI even though everyone knew who committed the crime. The county prosecutor himself praised the lynching and said he would refuse to prosecute anyone arrested for the crime.

Elsewhere, officials were not so ready to set aside the standards of justice and the lynching was called a “reprehensible act” and pledged a full investigation. This negative publicity only enraged whites in Poplarville, and they took their anger out on Mack Parker’s family. After numerous death threats, Parker’s family had to flee to California.

The verdict of the trial was more than a victory for the killers of Mack Parker; it was a victory for the white South over federal interference. The grand jury refused to indict and the lynch mob went free.

Some plainly viewed the lynching as an act of heroism against a federal government that was slowly destroying the Southern way of life. As one of Mississippi’s State Sovereignty Commission officials put it, “If we sat back and waited for the government to prosecute and punish Mack Parker, it would never happen. So we did it ourselves.”  Unfortunately, Mack Parker was presumed guilty and never had the chance for a trial to prove whether he was innocent or not.

This is a prime example of why it’s so imperative you not only practice your beliefs, but stand up for them as well. The majority is not always right and sometimes it just takes one voice, no matter how small or soft, to be the voice of reason and change the course of someone’s life.

This is one of the many lessons we learn each year during Sojourn to the Past. To learn more, visit www.sojournproject.org.

 

Bookmark and Share

viola-liuzzo-b-1-01212009-216pxIn 1965, a group of klansmen from Birmingham were sent to Selma, Alabama, with orders to keep the marchers under surveillance. At a stoplight, they noticed a green Oldsmobile with Michigan license plates driven by a white woman with a young, black male passenger. For the klansmen, the car and the passengers symbolized the two most despised aspects for the Civil Rights Movement: outsiders and race mixing.

Viola Liuzzo was a white mother from Detroit who had been shuttling marchers between Montgomery and Selma for three days. She had become known as a tireless and cheerful worker. By all descriptions, Viola was an extraordinary woman. At age 36, with five children at home, she had gone back to school to become a medical lab technician. She worked only for a few months and then quit in protest over the way female secretaries were treated. With the encouragement of her friend, she became one of the few white members of the National Assocation for the Advancement of Colored People. On March 7, 1965, Viola and her husband were watching the news when they saw the first clips of state troopers attacking Selma marchers. Tears rolled down Mrs. Liuzzo’s face and she brooded over the scene for days. Despite her husband’s concern, she got in her car and headed for Selma alone.

After the klansmen had spotted her and her young, black passenger they began to follow them. Surprisingly, Mrs. Liuzzo didn’t seem too concerned, and soon both cars were racing down the highway at 100 miles per hour. About 20 miles outside of Selma, the klansmen pulled up beside the car and one aimed his pistol out the window and shot Mrs. Liuzzo, shattering her skull. LeRoy Moton, her passenger, grabed the wheel and hit the brakes, and the car crashed into an embankment. When the klansmen walked over to inspect their work, Moton faked his death while they shone a light in the car. As soon as they left, Moton flagged down a truck carrying more civil rights workers, and although he was terrified, he was uninjured. Viola Liuzzo was dead.

After two trials (one being a hung jury where the klansmen were found not guilty), the three klansmen were eventually found guilty and each sentenced to 10 years in prison. This was the first conviction of murder in a civil rights case and was a landmark in southern racial history. It was also the first time the federal government successfully prosecuted a case of civil rights conspiracy.

 As intense a story as this is, we can look at it as a learning opportunity. It’s important that every day, in every way possble, we experience history in order to inspire the future.

Bookmark and Share

Innocents Lost

May 5, 2009

4littlegirls1In the basement of the ladies’ lounge of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, four young girls waited nervously for the worship service to begin. Addie Mae Collins, 14, and Denise McNair, 11, were in the choir. Carole Rosamond Robertson and Cynthia Diane Morris Wesley, both 14, had been chosen to serve as ushers. On the outside wall of the church, beneath a stone staircase, a dynamite  bomb had been planted eight hours earlier. It exploded at 10:22 a.m.shaking the whole church and killing the four young girls instantly. In the end, more than 20 people were hospitalized with injuries.

There had many bombings in Birmingham designed to stop the black struggle for equality, but nothing had been as evil as the dynamiting of children during Sunday School. The news spread quickly, and it sickened people of all races and all political allegiances throughout the world.

The FBI immediately investigated the bombing and discovered Klansmen planned it in response to the new school desegregation order. An eyewitness saw four white men plant the bomb, but inexplicably, no one was charged with the crime at that time. Two decades passed with no further action in the case. Then, in the mid 1990’s, it was reopened, and the U.S. Attorney, Doug Jones, successfully prosecuted Thomas Blanton in May 2001 and Bobby Cherry in May 2002. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

The Sixteenth Street bombing brought national attention to the evils of racism. More importantly, it made whites, who would never experience it themselves, feel the pain of racism. The day after the bombing a white lawyer named Charles Morgan gave a speech in Birmingham. He asked his audience: “Who did it?” and gave his own anguished answer: “We all did it…every person in this community who has in any way contributed…to the popularity of hatred is at least as guilty…as the demented fool who set that bomb.”

 At Sojourn Project, we use these stories from the past as learning experiences of the impact that hatred can have. We encourage you to embrace the differences you discover in your community. Differences are what make the world such a beautiful place.

Bookmark and Share

Freedom Riders

May 4, 2009

freedom-ridersOn May 4, 1961, a group of blacks and whites set out on a highly publicized trip to test a Supreme Court order outlawing segretation on bus terminals. They called themselves Freedom Riders.

Waiting for these buses to arrive at the terminal, an angry mob of white men carrying pipes, clubs, bricks and knives came at the bus. The driver drove off quickly as they saw the mob there waiting, but the mob caught up with the bus again right outside of Anniston, Alabama. The mob smashed all of the windows of the bus and threw a firebomb on board. The Freedom Riders all rushed out of the flames and into the hands of the mob where they were quickly brutally beaten by them.

The second busload of riders were all beaten by eight white men who boarded the bus when it pulled up to the terminal. The most seriously injured was a man named Walter Bergman who suffered a stroke as a result of the beating and was confined to a wheelchair for life.

Top federal officials arranged for the wounded Freedom Riders to fly out of Alabama, and students in Nashville made plans to finish the Freedom Ride. Federal officials tried to discourage them but were unsucessful. Once again these individuals attempting to finish the Freedom Ride were met by a mob – this time of more than 1,000 whites who beat them without police interference.

President Kennedy decided to protect the Freedom Riders since officials had failed to stop them. They rode into Jackson Mississippi unharmed the rest of the way, but were promptly arrested due to the fact that officials were told they could continue to enforce their segretgation laws if they would guarantee the Freedom Riders’ safety.

In September, bus companies were ordered to obey the earlier Supreme Court ruling which outlawed segregation in bus terminals. Once again, young protesters had exposed the injustices of segregation and forced the federal government to defend constitutional rights. As Martin Luther King said, “The real meaning of the movement: that students had faith in the future. That the movement was based on hope, that this movement had something within it that says somehow even though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.”

Bookmark and Share

hs-minnijean-brown-trickeMinnijean Brown-Trickey (born September 11, 1941) was one of a group of African-American teenagers known as the “Little Rock Nine.” Brown, along with eight others (Thelma Mothershed, Elizabeth Eckford, Gloria Ray, Jefferson Thomas, Melba Pattillo, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Daisy Bates, and Ernest Green) faced down an angry mob and helped to desegregate Central High on September 25, 1957, under the gaze of 1,200 armed soldiers. Brown-Trickey was later suspended in 1957 due to an incident in which her bowl of chileckfordphotoi was spilled on a white student in the cafeteria; she was expelled in February 1958 after verbally abusing a white female student, even though the girl had provoked her beforehand. After living in Canada for much of her adult life, Brown-Trickey has returned to Little Rock to continue to pioneer civil rights.

During the Sojourn trips, Minnijean conducts a class in Little Rock, Arkansas, on tolerance, bigotry, hate groups, and the ongoing struggle for social justice. Her firsthand experience with blatant racial hatred is uniquely poignant, and as a lifelong activist, Brown-Trickey is able to articulate the encounter with clarity and perspective. Her testimony not only exposes students on a Sojourn to the effects of injustices of the past, but also serves as a noteworthy example of how they can act to prevent future intolerance and discrimination. Students discuss how to develop personal action plans to face intolerance in themselves, their families, their schools and neighborhoods.

Sojourn: A temporary stay
Function: noun
Sojourn to the Past: An interactive journey through the American South to many significant sites where civil rights history was made, personal meetings with veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and advocates for human rights inspired by the invaluable lessons of hope, forgiveness, and civic responsibility, and understanding for the need of compassion, courage, and non-violence.
Function: verb
Welcome to the Sojourn Project, a program designed to inspire high school students across America to become engaged citizens and community leaders who promote social justice through non-violence. Through in-class activities, interactive trips to historic locations, and subsequent real-life applications for each learning experience, the Sojourn Project is able to initiate social justice that has sustainable influence on future generations.Here, find updates from civil rights sojourners, information about civil rights figures and landmarks, and other resources to help foster ongoing social justice through education.
Take the trip!