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Author: Lois G. Russell
Release Date: Mar 07, 2017
ASU leaders and students welcomed a large contingency of prominent national figures and civil rights leaders, as part of the 2017 Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage sponsored by the Faith and Politics Institute.
The annual Faith and Politics Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage visited the Alabama State University campus on Sunday, March 5.
According to its website: “The Faith & Politics Institute convenes members of Congress and other elected officials of all political affiliations, spiritual traditions and races and engages them in constructive dialogue around shared values necessary to advance democracy – conscience, courage, and compassion.”
More than 150 “pilgrims,” led by Congressman John Lewis, spent three days in Alabama, touring historic buildings and landmarks, including Alabama State University, and holding informative discussions about race relations and the modern Civil Rights Movement.
“We are very proud to have the opportunity to host this distinguished body of national leaders,” said Interim President, Dr. Leon C. Wilson. “We feel that it is most fitting that our University is part of their civil rights pilgrimage since ASU is steeped in the earliest history of the modern Civil Rights Movement, and all of the important campaigns for justice, freedom, equality, voting and civil rights. We, too, have a rich history — a history awash in virtue, sacrifice, truth and love. And we hope you will remember Alabama State after you leave here today.”
Faith and Politics members had the opportunity to hear about ASU’s many connections to the Civil Rights Movement from Wilson; Dr. Janice Franklin, dean of the University Library and Learning Resources College; and Dr. Dorothy Autrey, retired ASU professor of history. The group learned about ASU’s role in supporting the Montgomery Bus Boycott through the efforts of professor Jo Ann Robinson and her students, who created and distributed the flyers that were used to inform residents about the boycott. They were also told about distinguished alumni who became prominent civil rights leaders: Ralph David Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Frederick Reese and attorney Fred Gray.
The ASU stop also included a panel discussion, moderated by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Jonathan Capehart, with panelists Juanita Abernathy, widow of Ralph David Abernathy; Rev. Robert and Mrs. Jeannie Graetz, longtime civil rights activists; Dr. Kathy Dunn Jackson, whose mother was a member of the Women’s Political Council; and Dr. Ralph Bryson, retired veteran ASU educator and friend of Jo Ann Robinson.
For nearly 20 years, Congressman Lewis has led the Institute’s pilgrimage to Alabama and other southern locations.
“I feel that these pilgrimages are important in that they allow lawmakers and political leaders to gain firsthand knowledge about the fight for equality and the Civil Rights Movement,” said Lewis.
The veteran congressman and acclaimed civil rights leader said that he was “delighted” to be able to bring the group to ASU’s campus. In an interview after the event, Lewis praised the ASU students who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
“I would say to all of the (current) students here, study your history,” said Lewis. “Alabama State has a very, very rich and long history. I met so many young people…during the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides and the march from Selma to Montgomery…so many students, so many smart and gifted people who led the student wing of the movement. Without the student population of this University, I don’t know what would have happened here in the Deep South.”
One of those students joined Lewis on the pilgrimage. Dorothy (Frazier) Piedrahita, is a 1968 graduate of Alabama State Teachers College. She was among a group of nine students who organized protests in 1965.
“We organized the Selma to Montgomery Student Movement group from the United States and Canada,” said Piedrahita. “I knew one thing and that was I wasn’t going to be a slave. And I knew that African Americans…needed to have the right to vote. I had been involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott because my mother and father were involved in it.”
Piedrahita said she and other students were beaten by Montgomery County sheriff’s deputies near High and Jackson streets, and she was nearly killed on four different occasions, once while making a speech in front of ASU’s Councill Hall. She said the pilgrimage helped her to heal from some of the scars of her past as a young activist.
“A bullet came (very) close to me when I stood up (at Councill Hall). That…was the day I vowed I was going to fight racism for the rest of my life. And yesterday, I had an epiphany down in Selma. I had carried hate for 50 years for the Klan and white people who were trying to kill me. I got rid of that hate yesterday in Brown Chapel,” Piedrahita added.
Other members of the delegation who visited ASU included Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Alabama Senator Quinton Ross.
ASU students were a central part of the delegation’s Montgomery experience. The Golden Ambassadors welcomed and escorted guests during the entire weekend.
During the campus luncheon, students from the College of Visual and Performing Arts gave several stellar performances to the delight of those in attendance. Performing groups included dancers from the BFA in Dance program, as well as the University Choir, Trebled Soul and the SAI Ensemble.
Also performing from ASU’s Department of Music were award-winning musician Ron Handy, and alumna and acclaimed soloist, Dr. Cordelia Anderson, an assistant professor in vocal studies.