On Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 our #StridingForward walking group arrived in Washington, D.C. Thank you to everyone who participated! Check out the landmarks we passed on our way here.

Marchers in Harlem in 1965 carrying a banner that reads "We March with Selma!"
Marchers carrying banner lead way as 15,000 parade in Harlem / World Telegram & Sun photo by Stanley Wolfson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Striding Forward: Selma Onward

Virtual Walk from Selma to D.C. Feb. 15-28, 2021

As we celebrate Black History Month, please join the Brenau community for a virtual walk as we reflect on the distances walked by so many pivotal figures during the Civil Rights Movement. Our collective goal is to walk 824 miles, the distance from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C.

Starting Feb. 15, walk however you choose and submit the distance you walked to the tally form or through the Brenau app. You can submit as often as you’d like, and our collective miles will be regularly tallied.

For each major milestone achieved, we’ll share the stories of key events from Civil Rights history that took place in those locations along the way.

Brenau faculty, staff and students are all encouraged to participate. Drawings for gift cards to Black-owned businesses will be held for participation, and faculty and staff will also receive 5 wellness points.

Use the hashtags #stridingforward to share in the conversation.

Watch our progress below on this page and on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

Our walking progress

Montgomery, Alabama: 54 miles from Selma

On March 7, 1965, the first of three voting rights marches from Selma began. It was stopped after just a few blocks at Edmund Pettus Bridge by state and local law enforcement who beat and tear-gassed the marchers. This led the day to be called “Bloody Sunday.” Footage aired on national television, spurring dozens of demonstrators around the country. Two days later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led another march back to the bridge to speak to the violence that had. On March 21, protected by federal law enforcement, FBI and National Guardsmen, 3,000 protesters marched with King from Selma. When they reached Montgomery on March 25 their numbers had grown to around 25,000.

These marches, along with the parallel demonstrations elsewhere around the country helped force the passage of the Voting Rights Act in August of the same year.

More to watch

Tuskegee, Alabama: 90 Miles from Selma

Before 1941, the United States Armed Forces barred African Americans from aviation or combat roles, believing them to be inferior. With WWII looming and pressure mounting from the African American community, NAACP and sympathetic government officials, the War Department and the Army Air Corps created the first all-black flying unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, later the 99th Fighter Squadron.

African American recruits were initially tested for IQ, dexterity and leadership skills. According to airman Coleman Young, later the first African American mayor of Detroit, “They made the standards so high, we actually became an elite group. We were screened and super-screened. We were unquestionably the brightest and most physically fit young Blacks in the country. We were super-better because of the irrational laws of Jim Crow.”

The group was trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, near the Tuskegee Institute and eventually participated in war efforts in North Africa and Europe. The Tuskegee Airmen were highly successful in escorting bombing raids across Europe and the Mediterranean. In spite of their combat success, however, while deployed, African American airmen still operated under segregation and experienced constant discrimination including substandard facilities and harsh punishment.

At the end of WWII, the Tuskegee Airmen returned, successful and highly decorated, to a segregated military and country. Eventually, though, protests by soldiers and the success of the Tuskegee Airmen proved to many the necessity of African American service members in higher rank and helped bring about military desegregation in 1948.

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Atlanta, Georgia: 210 Miles from Selma

Often called the “cradle of the Civil Rights Movement,” Atlanta — with its centralized location and vast resources — was the backdrop for many of the people, organizations and events responsible for the movement’s success. The city is also home to the largest group of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which were instrumental in furthering the pursuits of the movement. These include Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark-Atlanta University, Morris Brown College and the Interdenominational Theological Center.  Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn district, once home to one of the country’s largest concentrations of African American businesses, was also a pivotal location in the movement. It is there that Morehouse graduate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, raised and served as co-pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church from 1960 until his assassination in 1968. The strategic location of black-owned businesses also helped the movement gain momentum, and the district was home to the headquarters for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.   

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Greenville, South Carolina: 360 Miles from Selma

On July 16, 1960, eight African American students sat down in the reading room of the whites-only Greenville County Public library. After the students refused to leave, the librarian called the police and had them arrested. Among the Greenville Eight was  then 19 year-old Jesse Jackson, home on break from college, and seven high school students,  Dorris Wright, Hattie Smith Wright, Elaine Means, Willie Joe Wright, Benjamin Downs, Margaree Seawright Crosby and Joan Mattison Daniel.

 The students had been to the library that morning, but left when police arrived. Rev. James S. Hall Jr., vice president of the South Carolina NAACP, instructed them to get a book and and sit back down. The students returned to the library and police arrived a few minutes later.

The Greenville Eight were charged with disorderly conduct and held in jail for about 15 minutes before being released on a $30  bond. Donald J. Sampson, the first African American lawyer in Greenville, filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of South Carolina.

Afraid they would be forced to integrate the library system the Greenville mayor and city council closed both the White and Black branches of the library under the premise that the lawsuit would fail if there were no library to prosecute.District Court Judge Charles Cecil Wyche ruled that if library reopened and was again segregated, it would be liable to further discrimination lawsuits.

After much public pressure, on Sept. 19, the city quietly reopened the libraries. While the mayor refused to admit they were integrated he stated  “The city libraries will be operated for the benefit of any citizen having a legitimate need for the libraries and their facilities. They will not be used for demonstrations, purposeless assembly, or propaganda purposes.”

The sit-in by the Greenville Eight led to the library system’s integration, and the charges against the students were dropped.

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Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine – Library of Congress
African American and white school children on a school bus, riding from the suburbs to an inner city school, Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina: 470 Miles from Selma

In 1965, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund brought the case of six-year-old James Swann, and nine other families, versus Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Swann was chosen because his father was a theology professor and was thus unlikely to be economically burdened by local retaliation. James Swann had attended integrated schools in India while his parents were missionaries there, and they wanted James to continue in an integrated school in the United States.

While initially struck down, the case was refiled in 1969 when the sitting judge was replaced by Judge James B. McMillan. McMillan found in favor of Swann and ordered the school board devise a plan for greater integration. Although McMillan was previously publicly opposed to busing, the court decided that busing students across school zone lines was the only way to fulfill the constitutional requirement of desegregation. McMillan became a local pariah and the lawyer who took the case had his home, office and car were bombed in retaliation.

The case was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971, where it was upheld. The decision led to the widespread use of busing to end segregation in the South. In 1975, McMillan was satisfied that the plan was indeed working, and he closed the Swann case, nine years after it was first filed.

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Black and white image of the Greensboro Four
The Greensboro Four (from left: David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Alexander Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan) and Joseph McNeil). (Wikimedia Commons)

Greensboro, North Carolina: 560 Miles from Selma

On Feb. 1, 1960, four Black college freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat down at the lunch counter in the F.W. Woolworth Company store in Greensboro. Ezell Alexander Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil, known as the Greensboro Four, had purchased toothpaste and other products from the store’s desegregated counter, but were refused service at the lunch counter. The store manager asked the men to leave, but they wouldn’t move. The Greensboro Four stayed until closing.

The next day, more than 20 other students joined the sit-in. The students were again refused service, but the sit-ins made local news. Over the next several days, hundreds more people, including college and high school students, joined the protests. Counter-protestors and Klan members also joined,  taunting and insulting the student protesters. The sit-in movement spread to other Southern cities including Durham, Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem in North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; Lexington, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia.

Tensions steadily escalated in Greensboro as the sit-ins continued. Students boycotted stores with segregated lunch counters. On Monday, July 25, 1960, after $200,000 (over $1.7M today) in losses, the F.W. Woolworth Company store manager asked four Black employees to change out of their work clothes and order a meal at the counter. Those four were, quietly, the first to be served at a Woolworth lunch counter. 

Four years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated desegregation in public accommodations.

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Black and white photo of African American young man holding a sign reading "must we learn our civics in jail?"
On July 25, 1963 students took to the streets of Farmville in protest of segregation and their closed schools. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries.

Farmville and Prince Edward County, Virginia: 690 Miles from Selma

In 1959, Prince Edward County in Virginia, closed its public schools as part of the state lawmakers’ campaign of “Massive Resistance” to integration. For four years the public schools remained closed. white students had the opportunity to attend the newly created private school, Prince Edward Academy. Property taxes were dropped to nearly nothing to help subsidize their tuition. Meanwhile, Black students were forced to attend schools outside their county, or in the majority’s case, not attend at all.

With the 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the appointment of Robert F. Kennedy as attorney general, a new spotlight was put on Prince Edward County. While the administration waged many legal battles against the state of Virginia and Prince Edward County, nothing was successful.

In 1963, after protests in Farmville in Prince Edward County, the Justice Department created the Free School Association’s, “private schools,” open to all students and funded by private donations. The massive undertaking raised over a million dollars and recruited teachers from around the country. On Sept. 16, 1963 the Free Schools opened their doors to 1,578 students, including four white students. On June 15, 1964, the Free Schools graduated 23 high school students.

On May 25, 1964, the U.S. The Supreme Court ruled in Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County that the county had violated the rights of the students and ordered them to reopen the schools and desegregate.

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An aerial view of the Washington Monument showing the crowd of that 250,000 had assembled for the March on Washington. (National Archives)

Washington, D.C.: 824 Miles from Selma

On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the most iconic speeches in American history during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States. The speech was delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and is considered to be a defining moment of the Civil Rights Movement.

The March on Washington consisted of a mile-long march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, commemorating the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation a century earlier. The turnout was higher than expected, and was the largest gathering for an event in the history of the nation’s capital.

King’s speech made reference to some of the most important documents in American history, including the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Although there was concern over the potential for violence, King maintained a positive, uplifting tone. His televised speech was well-received, and is often credited for helping to secure the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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