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Speaker Discusses Civil Rights Anniversary

Speaker Discusses Civil Rights Anniversary

By Carlissa Williams, Staff Writer, Serenity McLean, Staff Writer Photo by Sara Owen

Dr. W.A. Merritt, field secretary for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of North Carolina, brought the 50th Anniversary Civil Rights Movement Tour to the UC Annex Nov. 6.

His keynote speech was sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Brother to Brother, NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of North Carolina.

Dr. Merritt discussed historic events in the civil rights movement, including the Poor Man’s March, better known as the March on Washington in 1963.

This year, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which required equality for all people in the United States.

Dr. Merritt pointed out that UNCP was the first university in North Carolina to participate in the 50th Anniversary Civil Rights Movement Tour.

He hopes to take the tour to every college and university in North Carolina to honor the historic civil rights movement.

“President Lyndon B. Johnson and Dr. King (Martin Luther King Jr.) formed a relationship that would be the platform of change,” Dr. Merritt said.

He also reflected on the historical event known as Bloody Sunday, which took place in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965.

Some 600 marchers assembled to cross the bridge into Montgomery to vote but were blocked by law enforcement officers who demanded they return to their homes.

When they refused to do so, the nonviolent marchers were attacked with tear gas and hit with clubs.

Bloody Sunday gained the attention and support of President Johnson and would later lead to the passing of the Voting Rights Act.

Dr. Merritt described the error of not voting as being a slap in the face to the spirits who sacrificed in order to make it happen and urged the audience not only to participate in elections but to research political platforms.

“Some people vote and have no clue what the candidate’s platforms are and what they stand for,” he said.

A student asked Merritt what happened to the drive of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an African-American civil rights organization that worked for change during the turbulent 1960s. 

Dr. King had fueled SCLC as its founding president.

“The dreamer died. Not only did the dreamer die, but the dream died, too, in my opinion,” Dr. Merritt said.

With leaders who now are aged, SCLC is looking for young leaders to take on the responsibility, he said.

“If you have that burning desire to lead, shadow an experienced leader that you want to be,” he said.

He encouraged his audience to think outside of the box and take advantage of “time banking” which was embedded in the Civil Rights Movement.

Time banking is a way to pay forward to the community in order to seek change.

Anything that a person does for the community or for neighbors can be placed into a time bank and calculated as time credits, he said.

These credits represent the community’s effort to make a change.

The contemporary SCLC vision is to empower college students to be leaders and implement a program entitled the Drum Major Academy, which is geared towards the proper education of today’s youth.

“My suggestion to today’s generation is to empower yourself with knowledge and stop being led by misinformation (through which) few dictate the minds of many,” he said.

Photo by Sara Owen. Dr. W.A. Merritt speaks to students at the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement event that took place in the UC Annex on Noc. 6.