Youngest Selma marcher, Civil Rights author at MU Wednesday
HUNTINGTON — Marshall University will combine the observance of Martin Luther King Jr., Day and Black History Month with the Living the Legacy awards luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, on the lower level of the Memorial Student Center on the Huntington campus.
The luncheon will include a recognition of the Living the Legacy Award recipients and will feature keynote speaker Sheyann Webb-Christburg, who became known as King’s smallest freedom fighter and later co-authored the book Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood Memories of the Civil Rights Days.
Born one of eight children in Selma, Ala., in 1956, Webb-Christburg attended the then-segregated public schools of Dallas County. When she was nine years old, she and her friend Rachael West, who later would co-author their book, had a fateful and chance encounter with King.
The two were playing outside the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church when they noticed a car pull up with several nicely dressed African American men inside. Curious, they walked over to the car and were introduced to King, who, they were told, was in Selma to help African Americans get voting rights.
As part of that effort there were nightly mass meetings held at the church which Webb-Christburg would sneak out of her house to attend. She would also lead the congregation in singing freedom songs with “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” as her favorite. She got so involved with the Selma campaign that she began skipping school in spite of warnings from her parents. She listened to them but continued to miss classes. Her devotion to King and his causes was deep and fervent.
After a young black man, Jimmy Lee Jackson, was killed while demonstrating for voting rights, a 54-mile march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery to present a petition to Gov. George Wallace was planned for Sunday, March 7, 1965. Webb-Christburg was the youngest person to attempt the march and she walked near the end of the crowd with her teacher. Once the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were ordered to turn back and when they didn’t were charged by deputies on horseback who beat them with billy clubs and threw tear gas. As she was running back to the church she was picked up by Rev. Hosea Williams, one of the leaders of the march. That day went down in history forever to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”
She would later write the book about her experiences which would be turned into a movie, ”Selma, Lord, Selma,” made by Walt Disney Television which premiered on ABC television on Jan. 17, 1999. King’s daughter, Yolanda, had a role in the movie as Webb-Christburg’s teacher who walked beside her in the march.
Since 2006 she’s lived in Montgomery, Ala., and works for Alabama State University. Today she travels around the country telling her story about what happened on Bloody Sunday, a day she says changed her life forever.
Also at the luncheon the 2013 recipients of the Living the Legacy awards will be honored. Receiving awards will be Dr. David Trowbridge, Outstanding Faculty Service; Stephanie Holman, Outstanding Community Service; and Charles Meyers, Outstanding Student Service.
According to Dr. Shari Clarke, Vice-President for Multicultural Affairs, criteria for the awards include a demonstrated commitment of service and affiliations within the Marshall and/or Huntington community; inspiring others by giving freely and unselfishly of their time and talent; demonstrating a commitment to addressing community needs; demonstrating a commitment to helping others achieve and overcome obstacles to build stronger and more diverse/tolerant and safer communities; and a commitment to effecting change in their communities through transformative action.
The observance of Martin Luther King Day was postponed from the traditional designated day of Jan. 21 because of the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
The luncheon is free but reservations need to be made by Wednesday, Jan. 30. They can be made by contacting Clarke at 304-696-4677 or at Clarkes@marshall.edu.