Civil rights activist to speak at WWU

University schedules week of activities to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Joanne Bland was 11 years old on March 7, 1965, when she lined up with her friends to participate in what she thought would be just another peaceful Civil Rights march in Selma, Ala.

Nearly 47 years later, Bland will share her experience on what has come to be known as “Bloody Sunday” and her subsequent involvement with the Civil Rights movement when she appears as part of the President’s Lecture Series at William Woods University on Jan. 16.

Bland, who will give a public lecture starting at 7 p.m. in Cutlip Auditorium, described Bloody Sunday as the scariest day of her life.

“I’ve never been that scared since,” Bland said, noting that, “I never expected there to be violence.”

She said her older sister, Linda, had told her the marchers would not be walking the more than 50 miles to the state capitol in Montgomery as originally planned because the police planned to turn the marchers back. In fact, the 600 protesters who showed up on March 7 were met on the opposite end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge by an assembled force of state troopers and local police — Sheriff Jim Clark had issued an order for all white males in Dallas County over the age of 21 to report to the courthouse that morning to be deputized — armed with billy clubs and tear gas, some of them mounted on horses.

“I had marched before, so I knew what the procedure was. When we (met the police, the leaders) would ask for permission to pass, and I knew it would be denied, and they would go down to their knees (to pray),” Bland said, adding that this is not what ended up happening. “When we crested the bridge, it was silent, and that’s not right. I saw the police spread across the end of the bridge — all four lanes.

“That’s when all heck broke loose, and I heard screams and what I thought was gunshots, but it turned out to be the tear gas,” she continued. “Nobody knew what was going on. Screams is what I remember most. It was horrible.”

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