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Bland leaves Voting Rights Museum, working with history tours

The Selma Times-Journal

Joanne Bland was there when the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute was a thought – just an idea.

She helped found the museum, and has worked there as executive director, curator, tour guide, secretary and volunteer.

She helped organize the first Bridge Crossing Jubilee and has been the point of contact for visitors from the White House to high school students in California and Africa.

She is now leaving the museum, but will remain in Selma.

Friends have been visiting with her and wishing her well with the transition. A group of friends and family joined in for lunch Thursday at Essie’s Place at Wallace Community College Selma, one of Bland’s many favorite eating establishments.

A child of the Selma voting rights demonstrations, one of her biggest thrills she said came recently when a young black U.S. senator from Illinois told her he wanted to walk arm in arm with her across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during this year’s Jubilee.

“You know I thought he was joking. But he was serious,” Bland said of her first encounter with Barack Obama, a democratic presidential hopeful. “Prior to him it had to be when President Bill Clinton visited.”

Carver Boynton, Selma Mall general manager, has known Bland for half her life. The granddaughter of voting rights pioneer Amelia Boynton Robinson, Boynton said Bland’s outgoing, welcoming personality and unique style has attributed to the success of the museum.

“Joanne has always been an outspoken and well-received member of the community,” Boynton said. “She has developed a very well-known reputation for her energetic and aggressive style of presenting, which captures the aggression of the Civil Rights Movement.”

While she is stepping down as executive director, Bland won’t be far away. She’ll still conduct group tours of the museum she helped nurture into the top tourist destination in Selma.

“It took a lot of soul searching and many sleepless nights to arrive at the decision to leave. My last bittersweet day was April 15,” Bland said. “My tenure at the Museum has been wonderful.”

Bland will continue doing what she loves and will have even more territory to cover.

“I have partnered with a tour agency here in Selma and will head the Specialty Tour division,” she said. “My major focus will be to develop and implement quality educational tours of the Civil Rights sites in the South.”