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Students Experience The Civil Rights Movement Secondhand

by Angela Fortuna

Nearly 400 students and faculty members gathered at Central Connecticut State University to listen to mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. William Bell, speak on behalf of Birmingham during the civil rights movement.

The civil rights lecture was primarily focused on the “city of Birmingham’s ugly past, its reconciliation and the city’s legacy in promoting civil rights, equality and justice for all,” according to African American studies professor Stephen Balkaran who organized the event that occurred last Tuesday.

“I think Mayor Bell’s perspective on civil rights is remarkable,” said Balkaran. “The fact that he was part of the movement as a teenager in the 1960s brings first-hand knowledge of the struggle for equality in America.”

CCSU president, Dr. Zulma Toro, gave opening remarks at the lecture held in Torp Theatre in Lawrence J. Davidson Hall.

“CCSU takes pride in supporting diversity,” said Toro. “Our [CCSU’s] dedication for justice has been the cornerstone of our success.”

After Toro spoke, Balkaran introduced Bell.

“Our distinguished speaker was involved in the civil rights movement as a 14-year-old in Birmingham, Alabama,” said Balkaran. “His legacy as a civil rights activist continues today as mayor.”

The audience was full of emotion as Bell shared his personal childhood experiences.

“It’s important for CCSU’s faculty, staff, students and our community to have such an icon on campus. His knowledge on the civil rights movement will shape students’ minds for generations to come,” said Balkaran.

Bell recalled hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “power of words” and “passion” as a young boy, which inspired him.

As a 14-year-old, Bell acknowledged that he did not experience all of the difficult times his family went through, but he certainly knew something needed to be done about the way they were treated.

During the 1960s, the black community often felt intimidated and victimized by the white community, according to Bell.

During the question-and-answer portion of the lecture, a woman, who claimed to have grown up during the 1980s, said she remembers feeling intimidated by the white community and still sees this fear in her own children. She then asked Bell about his stance on affirmative action, and whether it applies today.

Bell responded that affirmative action needs to be evaluated “time and time again” to see if it is still needed.

At the end of the lecture, many students and faculty asked Bell about civil rights today, in reference to incidents such as Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter movement. Many had the same question: what happened to the black community?

Bell said that leadership is needed in the black community today, and that there will always be a “push and pull” situation with human and civil rights.

“That’s just the nature of our society,” said Bell.