Legacy Project marks 50th anniversary of civil rights movement

News Editor

“Always remember the past, for therein, lies the future. If forgotten, we are destined to repeat it.”
Theodora Lacey-Smiley
Civil Rights Activist

On Thursday, Dec. 5, an event marking the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement took place. Sheffield Hall was packed to capacity with students and faculty.

The speakers agreed that the United States has come a long way since the inception of the civil rights movement, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Ray Kalas, a professor of broadcasting arts at County College of Morris and the host of the event, gave an explanation as to The Legacy Project’s objectives.

“The Legacy Project is where each semester, our focus will be to honor an important event, a historical figure, perhaps even a social movement or an academic theory,” Kalas said.

Sean Aiken, at 45 the youngest guest speaker, graduated from CCM in 2007 and is currently working as a freelance journalist and blogger. “Now, 50 years later civil rights is still on the public agenda, but the faces (have) changed a bit,” Aiken said. “It’s now, almost as much about gay rights and women’s rights and veterans’ rights and illegal immigrants’ rights, as much as it is about African-Americans’ rights.” Theodora Smiley-Lacey, a dedicated civil rights activist and retired schoolteacher from Montgomery, Ala. contributed a unique historical perspective.

Having a mother whose childhood friend was Rosa Parks, who gained fame when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, Smiley-Lacey had intimate knowledge of two of the greatest civil rights icons of all time when she, herself, also became close with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She, along with Dr. King, were instrumental in carrying out the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955.

“What I want you to know today (is that) it was the coming together of people of all colors, religions and back- grounds, that made the Montgomery bus boycott a success,” Smiley-Lacey said.

Arnold Brown, an African-American activist who spent years making a difference inside and outside of Bergen County, witnessed King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C., and was inspired to live a life of civil rights activism.

“That speech stirred into me even more concern about community issues about things that are right and things that are wrong and gave me a determination to go home and do more than I had been doing,” Brown said.

It is widely agreed in academia that the civil rights movement has allowed students to gain fair and equal access to an education without having to worry about being discriminated against or denied the right to go into a particular career.

Arik Cotten, a student who graduated from CCM in 1996 with a degree in humanities, expressed the effects he feels the civil rights movement has brought to this country.

“I see examples of the efforts that were given during the civil rights movement come into fruition; I’m probably one of them,” Cotten said. “Born in 1974, I was a recipient of [what] I would like to think of, equal education, which was something that they [the people] fought for back in the past.”

However, Cotten said that he still suffers racial discrimination today. Rachel Nider, a communication major at CCM, agreed. “There is definitely a larger sense of equality, where it’s more opportunities for not even just people of color and white, I think it’s for everybody, so I think it goes a whole long way, but this is definitely a huge start,” Nider said. The one thing that students found to be a huge inspiration for them, was when Theodora Smiley-Lacey described a West African fable about a bird called the Sancouful “that flies forward while looking backwards, and the fable says, ‘Always remember the past, for therein, lies the future. If forgotten, we are destined to repeat it,’” Smiley-Lacey said.


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