2014 Archives

SMU celebrates human rights heroes
and the anniversary of its Civil Rights Pilgrimage


Jerry Mitchell and Joanne Bland
Jerry Mitchell and Joanne Bland

Civil rights activist Joanne Bland, a survivor of the 1965 Selma, Ala., “Bloody Sunday” attack, and Jerry Mitchell, renowned civil rights investigative reporter with the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, spoke at SMU on April 10, 2014. Their conversation marked the 10-year-anniversary of SMU’s annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage. 

April 11, 2014

By Devean R. Owens
SMU News

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU celebrated civil and human rights at two events this week, awarding the Robert O. Cooper Peace and Justice Fellowship to a veteran of the civil rights movement and the William K. McElvaney Peace and Justice Award to an SMU student, as well as marking the 10th anniversary of SMU’s annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage.

SMU’s Office of the Chaplain hosted the Robert O. Cooper Peace and Justice Fellowship Lecture and the William K. McElvaney Peace and Justice Award presentation on Thursday, April 10.

Joanne Bland, a survivor of the 1965 Selma, Ala., “Bloody Sunday” attack and lifelong civil rights activist, received the Cooper Peace and Justice Fellowship, and SMU student Melissa Maguire received the McElvaney Peace and Justice Award. The anniversary of SMU’s Civil Rights Pilgrimage also was observed.

Bland has been actively involved in the civil rights movement since 1961, when as an 8-year-old child she attended a voting rights meeting presided over by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.   She joined other children and teenagers in the civil rights movement as a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. She was only 11 on March 7, 1965, when she was severely beaten and driven back across the Edmund Pettus Bridge by police determined to stop a group making a voting rights march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery.

Bland is co-founder and director of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, and is well known to SMU civil rights pilgrims who meet with her as they travel across the south every spring to learn about the tragedies and triumphs of the American civil rights movement. An Army veteran, Bland has told her personal story at conferences and workshops across the country, including at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Melissa Maguire
Melissa Maguire

Maguire received the McElvaney Award for her personal commitment and leadership to the causes of human rights, human welfare and social justice. She was a student coordinator for the 2014 SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage, co-chaired the presentation of the Vagina Monologues in February by SMU’s Women’s Interest Network, and has travelled to Holocaust sites in Poland with SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program.

Maguire is an SMU senior majoring in English, Spanish and human rights with minors in women and gender studies, history and psychology. She is a member of Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, the Women’s Interest Network and Order of Omega. Upon graduation, Maguire plans to enter the non-profit sector.

The Robert O. Cooper Peace and Justice Fellowship was founded in 1992 upon the retirement of Robert O. Cooper after 27 years as associate chaplain to the University. The fellowship began with gifts from Cooper’s friends and co-workers in the chaplaincy, The Dallas Peace Center and Northaven United Methodist Church. Previous recipients have included SMU professor and human rights activist Rick Halperin, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

The William K. McElvaney Peace and Justice Award was established in 1993 by friends of Rev. Bill McElvaney on the occasion of his retirement from SMU’s Perkins School of Theology to honor his lifelong commitment to peace, justice and civil rights. The award recognizes the peace and justice work of one or more worthy SMU students and provides a stipend to be used by the recipients in the advancement of peace and justice activities.

SMU Celebrates 10 Years of Experiential Civil Rights Study

SMU celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Civil Rights Pilgrimage Program on Thursday, April 10.  The program featured a conversation between Bland and Jerry Mitchell, the renowned civil rights investigative reporter with the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger whose work has been instrumental in the cold-case convictions of men responsible for some of the most heinous crimes of the civil rights era – including the assassination of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers in 1963 and the firebombing death of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer in 1966.

Dog Biting StatueMitchell has received more than 30 national awards for his work and is a two-time recipient of the George Polk Award. His “Journey to Justice” blog is available online at http://blogs.clarionledger.com/jmitchell/.

The discussion between Bland and Mitchell was moderated by Marvin Dulaney, chair of the history department at the University of Texas at Arlington.

During the annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage, SMU students, faculty, and staff take an eight-day bus journey to visit the American South’s civil rights landmarks and meet the now-graying survivors of the movement. Walking in the footsteps of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers and the “Little Rock Nine” is a powerful experience, especially for those participants who have spent several months before the trip studying the era under SMU Political Science Professor Dennis Simon.

The group’s stops include Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas; the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King served as pastor; the campus of Ole Miss in Oxford, site of anti-integration rioting; and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., where King was assassinated.  Read the blog written by participants in the 2014 pilgrimage at http://blog.smu.edu/studentadventures/category/civil-rights-pilgrimage-2014/.


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