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Remember those who died in struggle for justice

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Sen. Judy Robson
February 11, 2010

As we celebrate Black History Month, let us remember the lesser-known civil rights heroes.


Many Americans—black and white, northern and southern, civil rights workers and innocent bystanders—were assaulted and killed in the struggle for justice.


As civil rights activists stepped up the fight for equality, those who preferred the status quo stepped up their violence and terrorism.


The civil rights memorial in Montgomery, Ala., lists the names of 40 people who died in the struggle for civil rights between 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation in schools to be illegal, and 1968, the year the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.


Among them is the Rev. George Lee, who was murdered in 1955 for using his pulpit and printing press to encourage blacks to vote in Humphreys County, Miss.


Also in 1955, John Reese, age 16, was shot by whites who were trying to terrorize black residents of Mayflower, Texas, into giving up plans for a new school.


There were the four little girls who died when Ku Klux Klan members bombed a church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.


That same day in Birmingham, white teenagers shot a 13-year-old boy who was riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bicycle. The shooters had just come from a segregationist rally.


Also in 1963, William L. Moore, a Baltimore postman, was shot in Alabama while walking in a single-man march to the state capital in Mississippi. He had planned to give the governor a letter urging an end to intolerance. It was his third and final protest march.


The Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston, was beaten to death in Selma, Ala., in 1965. He was one of many clergymen who joined the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march after the first march was thwarted when state and local police violently turned back marchers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge.


Another northerner who joined the march was Viola Fauver, a mother of five from Detroit. She went to Alabama alone after seeing television reports of the attack on marchers on the bridge. She was shot in the head while shuttling marchers to an airport.


Each new murder generated fresh outrage by Americans and galvanized support for reform.


There is an empty space on the memorial representing individuals who died before or after that 14-year period or whose stories were not known when the memorial was created.


The memorial does not include the scores of southern blacks who were lynched by mobs.


But the list does tell the story of the terrorism that struck fear in the hearts of southern blacks—a terrorism that was intended to keep them from trying to cast ballots—or get better schools for their children—or demand fair wages.


As we celebrate Black History Month, let us honor the memory of these other civil rights heroes. Their courage and sacrifice galvanized the conscience of the American people and made our nation a more fair and just society.


Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, represents Wisconsin’s 15th Senate District, which includes most of Rock County, the Whitewater area and part of Brodhead. Readers can write to her at sen.robson@legis.wisconsin.gov or at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or call her at 1-800-334-1468.

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