Civil rights activist Joanne Bland spreads message of hope


Mrs. Joanna Bland processing into the Martin Luther King Jr. prayer service. Elisabeth Hall ’18

Civil and human rights activist Mrs. Joanne Bland imparted a message of hope and faith at Sacred Heart Greenwich’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Service January 13. In addition, she visited a Senior Seminar In Literature and Thought class to speak with twelfth grade students and answer their questions. (See link to the video of the Live Stream below.)

Mrs. Joanna Bland processing into the Martin Luther King Jr. prayer service. Elisabeth Hall '18
Mrs. Joanne Bland processing into the Martin Luther King Jr. prayer service with senior Jodanna Domond.
Elisabeth Hall ’18

After entering the auditorium with a procession of students singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Mrs. Bland went on to encourage students to explore where they can make change. 
Mrs. Bland began her civil rights activism in the 1960s at only 11 years old when she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization formed to give youth an opportunity to participate in the Civil Rights movement, according to The organization eventually became instrumental to the overall movement.
Mrs. Bland grew up with her father and grandmother in the segregated Selma, Alabama. She remembers her inability to enter stores or try on clothes, and going to the library and the movie theater on “colored days.”
“I wanted to sit at this lunch counter, and I couldn’t understand why people were saying we were fighting for our freedom,” Mrs. Bland said. “My grandmother gave me some clarity on that one day when we were standing in front of that store that had the lunch counter. She was talking to one of her friends, so I was peeping in at the lunch counter wishing it was me. My grandmother leaned over me and pointed at the counter and said to me, ‘When we get our freedom you can do that too.’ I became a freedom fighter that day.”
Mrs. Joanna Bland speaking at the Martin Luther King Jr. prayer service. Elisabeth Hall '18
Mrs. Joanne Bland speaking at the Martin Luther King Jr. prayer service.
Elisabeth Hall ’18

At that time, Mrs. Bland joined SNCC with her older sisters and began to march and protest for civil rights. Though her father feared for his daughters’ safety, her grandmother thought the risk was worth the reward, and often brought Joanne and her sisters out to march.
“My father would leave out the front door, and my grandmother would push us out the back door and say, ‘Go get your freedom and try to be back before your daddy comes home,’” Mrs. Bland said. 
By the age of 11, Mrs. Bland had already been arrested a documented 13 times for demonstrating and protesting for civil rights. She participated in a number of historically important marches in the movement, including the first march from Selma to Montgomery, often known as Bloody Sunday. Mrs. Bland was most proud to be a part of this march because it led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 
“We were denied the right to vote, but we made it. I think that was the most significant gain that we had,” Mrs. Bland said. “I think that was the most significant piece of legislation ever written.”
Since that first day she decided to be a freedom fighter, Mrs. Bland has committed the rest of her life to fighting inequality in all forms. In fact, while she was working at the National Voting Rights Museum, someone asked her to speak for the first time on behalf of and in remembrance of civil rights.
“I was Director of the National Voting Rights Museum. I was content to talk to people when they came in. One day somebody asked me would I speak at [a civil rights event], and I said yes. I should have said no,” Mrs. Bland said, laughingly. “But the last 20 years I have been traveling all over this country to wonderful places and I have met wonderful people who have touched my life.”
Mrs. Bland feels that her job is important because she spreads awareness about the advancements the United States has made in its quest for equality, what changes it still needs to make, and what young people can do to help promote this progress.
“Young people always want us to give them a road map. Don’t you know that if we knew the way to do it we adults would not allow children to do it? We would have done it and taken all the credit for it,” Mrs. Bland said, jokingly. “I know speakers get up and tell children what they think they ought to be doing. I don’t do that. I simply say ‘I don’t know.’ I know that you should be doing something and that you are on a good road because you are learning where we have been as a nation and when you know where we have been, you can skip those mistakes. You can take the good and make it better, and you take the bad and get rid of it once and for all.”
-Elizabeth Bachmann, Content Editor