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Impact of Civil Rights 'Foot Soldiers' Recognized

Contributions of Civil Rights Workers Recognizedi
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August 25, 2013 9:24 PM
Fifty years ago millions of African Americans were in a struggle for racial equality in the southern United States. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was the leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s but there were many others who followed his lead and made great sacrifices in the quest for equal rights and freedoms. VOA Chris Simkins has more on the impact made by those in the shadows of the movement.
Contributions of Civil Rights Workers Recognized
Chris Simkins
Fifty years ago, millions of African Americans struggled for racial equality in the southern United States. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the leader of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but there were many others who followed his lead and made great sacrifices in the quest for equal rights and freedoms.
 
"The conditions were not good for us,” said Hollis Watkins, a civil rights activist. “A change needed to be made, a change for the better needed to come about."
 
Watkins and countless others were known as the movement's foot soldiers. They worked quietly behind the scenes to fight segregation and other injustices African Americans faced.
 
“History only remembers a few people, and so I think when we look back we don’t sometimes recognize the fullness and the incredible number of people who made progress possible," said Richard Cohen, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
 
In Alabama, Shirley Gavin Floyd, who heads an organization that helps tell the stories and unsolved mysteries of decades ago, said the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement made great sacrifices.
 
"They were on the battlefield,” she said. “They were the ones who were beaten down. They were the ones who were washed down the street. They were the one who were spat upon."
 
Reverend Willie Blue also worked behind the scenes, running what were called "freedom schools" that educated civil rights workers to register black voters in the South.
 
"Freedom school was very instrumental in teaching our young people that in turn went out and knocked on doors, talked to people, convinced them to get registered to vote," said Blue.
 
Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., was known as the cradle of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. Leaders from across the country would come here to speak and fire up the demonstrators to fight for equal rights.
 
Floyd remembers how effective the mass meetings were in raising hope and morale.
 
"This meeting motivated them through singing and praying and talking and deliberations,” she said. “And at the same time telling them the importance of them participating in this movement to break down the barriers of segregation and discrimination."
 
In a march in Mississippi, Louis Tucker was among those attacked by police dogs.
 
“They turned the dogs loose on us and we defended our territory with milk bottles, and that is what we chased the dogs off with and we continued on our way," he said.
 
Dick and Sharon Miles were among the white people who took part in the movement, helping to register blacks to vote in 1963. They took great risks in participating.
 
"There was potential violence and there were certainly threats and people objected to the work we were doing," said Dick Miles. "I think a lot of people in the North, both black and white, had decided as Sharon and I decided that we really should get involved.  That young people especially should get involved because this was a watershed moment in American history."
 
Tyrone Davis was afraid to take part civil rights demonstrations until a 1966 march against fear from Memphis to Jackson, Miss.
 
"When the march ended for me the fear ended,” said Davis.  “Before then I was afraid to do the things that I was allowed to as a citizen of the United States. I had a certain right, the same right as a human being, to do what anyone else can do. 
 
Clifton Casey was 17 years old when he was arrested and spent nine days jailed for marching in a demonstration.
 
"I was just one little person, but the group as a whole what we did and I look back on it now and it was super," said Casey.

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