A conversation on civil rights: Join USA TODAY to discuss community leaders’ roles in helping fight systemic racism

·3 min read
These nine Tougaloo College students held the first "read-in" in Mississippi when they attempted to desegregate the all-white Jackson Public Library. The Tougaloo Nine are, from left, Joseph Jackson, Geraldine Edwards, James Cleo Bradford, Evelyn Pierce, Albert Lassiter, Ethel Sawyer, Meredith C. Anding Jr., Janice L. Jackson and Alfred Lee Cook.
These nine Tougaloo College students held the first "read-in" in Mississippi when they attempted to desegregate the all-white Jackson Public Library. The Tougaloo Nine are, from left, Joseph Jackson, Geraldine Edwards, James Cleo Bradford, Evelyn Pierce, Albert Lassiter, Ethel Sawyer, Meredith C. Anding Jr., Janice L. Jackson and Alfred Lee Cook.

On March 27, 1961, nine Black college students sat at tables at a whites-only library and helped change the course of American history. The students, enrolled at Tougaloo College outside Jackson, Mississippi, were quickly arrested, fueling a freedom movement that inspired young people at other historically Black colleges and universities across the nation to rally against segregation.

Sixty years later, USA TODAY is inviting readers to examine how racism continues to shape our country in a free virtual event titled, “Freedom Now: How Institutions of Power Fuel and Stall Change.”

USA TODAY is collaborating with Tougaloo College for this conversation on the roles law enforcement, media, government and education leaders serve in civil rights movements. The event is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. EDT. Register here.

The event is part of USA TODAY’s “Seven Days of 1961” project, which spotlights seven pivotal protests in 1961 that fueled the civil rights movement and helped end legal segregation and extend voting rights to millions of Black Americans. This sprawling multimedia project features stories from the last generation of civil rights-era veterans to be published from September through December.

This project arrives more than a year after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many other Black Americans. It comes amid a divisive national debate over systemic racism, equal access to the voting booth, how we teach American history and what role institutions such as the police, media and government serve in making our society safe and fair for all.

Police Chief George H. Guy poses beside the "White waiting room" sign posted outside the Greyhound bus terminal in McComb, Miss., on Nov. 2, 1961.
Police Chief George H. Guy poses beside the "White waiting room" sign posted outside the Greyhound bus terminal in McComb, Miss., on Nov. 2, 1961.

The “Freedom Now” event is inspired by mass meetings held in Black communities to end segregation. These gatherings served to keep hope alive through song, prayer and testimony.

It will feature a musical performance from Charles Neblett, one of the original Freedom Singers, a group formed in 1962 to raise money for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most prominent organizations of the era. Tracy K. Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017 through 2019, will read one of her poems.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson
NAACP President Derrick Johnson
Deborah Barfield Berry
Deborah Barfield Berry

The panelists include Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP; Ja’Mal Green, a Chicago Black Lives Matter activist; Georgia state Sen. Kimberly S. Jackson; Brenda Travis, an NAACP student leader in the 1960s; and Gerard Robinson, vice president for education at the Advanced Studies in Culture Foundation at the University of Virginia. Daphne Chamberlain, an associate professor of history at Tougaloo College, and Deborah Barfield Berry, USA TODAY national correspondent on race and politics, will help moderate the event.

Audience members will have the opportunity to pose questions to the panel.

This is the first of three virtual events USA TODAY will host as part of the “Seven Days of 1961” project.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USA TODAY free event explores racism and systems of power

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