North Carolina educators get first-hand lesson in civil rights

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 26, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

Lisa Oakes teaches life skills to middle schoolers in Winston Salem, N.C. Hearing the story of how educators turned the tide in Selma during the struggle for voting rights made her proud.

She was part of a group of educators and staffers from the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teachers who visited Selma.

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“You hear about it and you read about it, but coming here I find there’s so much I didn’t know,” said Oakes, who was traveling with 24 other teachers from throughout the state.

The educators were hosted by Lawrence and Dorthea Huggins, former teachers who were among the 105 of the 125 black teachers led by Dr. F.D. Reese in the teacher’s march, credited for giving the Civil Rights Movement momentum toward achieving voting rights legislation.

“Welcome to the Mecca of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Lawrence Huggins. “You are from that noble profession, and you’ll see teachers played an integral role here in Selma.”

The group toured the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute, and had a viewing of “The Forgotten Film,” which contains never seen before color footage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Selma.

The Huggins are museum volunteers, who share their personal experiences of life in Selma at the center of the Civil Rights Movement.

“We had to do this part of our program on site. It’s the only way to really grasp the experience,” said Ernest Johnson of the NCCAT. “We wanted to really see what it was like. Ours has a lot more bells and whistles, but we’re on a bus. We’re studying, and we came to learn.”

NCCAT, the first state-funded center of its kind in the nation has brought national attention to North Carolina. A center of the University of North Carolina, education officials from many states have visited to see its facilities and programs in action. In 1995, United States leaders in government and education gathered at NCCAT for a meeting of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

Sam Walker, museum coordinator, conducted a tour of the museum and gave a history lesson on The Voting Rights Act of 1965 – in particular Sec. 5, which expires in 25 years and gives the U.S. Department of Justice authority under an enforcement provision.

The North Carolina teachers also visited the Dallas County Courthouse. They wanted to see the famous steps outside, which were the scene of many news conferences and confrontations between demonstrators and then Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark.