Activist speaks on participating in civil rights during the era of Jim Crow

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The Rev. Harry Blake, a former civil rights activist, speaks at the “Call for Unity” panel sponsored by the Black History Month Committee Feb. 26 in the nursing complex. Blake spoke about the challenges he went through as he grew up in a plantation in Louisiana. He said he was targeted by police who wanted to scare him and other African-Americans. “I’ve enjoyed everything in my life, even the plantation,” he said. Andrea Moreno

Black History Month essay contest winners were chosen.

By Michael Smith

The Civil War ended slavery but not discrimination, a civil rights activist, the Rev. Harry Blake, said Feb. 26 in a lecture titled “Unity” as part of Black History Month.

“The Civil war had officially abolished slavery but did not end discrimination against blacks,” Blake said. “Blacks continued to endure the devastating effects of racism, especially in the South.”

Blake shared his experiences with the audience about his upbringing.

“I was 85 years ago born on a plantation,” Blake said. “I lived on a plantation until I was 24 years old.”

A native of Arkansas, Blake, along with his four siblings, was born into immense poverty.

His father was a tenant farmer who lived on a plantation his entire life, never learning how to read or write.

“My daddy never made over $20 a week,” Blake said.

However, financial shortcomings were not going to stop Blake and his family from pursuing education.

“He didn’t have enough money to send us to college, but it gave us plenty of motivation and we found a way to go on our own,” he said.

Blake spoke on the issues of Jim Crow laws, such as segregated facilities.

When I grew up I drunk colored water until I turned the color I am,” Blake jokingly said.

Blake also spoke on the difficulty of passing a literacy test to keep most blacks from being able to vote.

“In order to register to vote, you had to answer any literary question that the registered voter would ask you, interpret any part of the U.S Constitution to their satisfaction, and figure out how old you were on any day in years, months and days,” Blake said.

“Some of you would be challenged to do that even today,” Blake added.

Right after graduating college in 1959, Blake met Martin Luther King Jr.

“He invited me to come on his staff and work there as a field representative in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas,” Blake said. “We were getting blacks registered as voters in America.”

During the rise of the civil rights era, local African-Americans, began to exercise their rights of equality by going to segregated restaurants like the Woolworths lunch counter protest on Feb.1, 1960, in North Carolina.

“They had purchased other items in that store with no difficulty,” Blake said. “But when they sat at the lunch counter and demanded to be served, they would not serve them.”

He then spoke on how much college and high school students contributed during the civil rights movement from the 1940s-1960s.

“All over America, college students practiced the sit-in movements,” Blake said. “Students ran the movement. They were the fire behind the movement.”

“Though Dr. King was the captain of the movement, students were the ones who made the movement,” Blake added.

Blake described brutality he experienced while he was an activist.

“On Oct. 12, 1960, I was coming home from my church one night when a car I thought was pulling in my lane to pass me, shot into my car at the split second that I leant forward to adjust my radio,” he said. “An impact of the bullet and the glass tore four holes in the coat I was wearing.”

The most traumatizing event occurred at a church the Sunday following the bombing of the 16th St. Church in Birmingham, Ala.

“The police came in after the service, rode horses into the church, pulled me out and beat me,” he said. “When I appeared to be lifeless or dead, they left me laying on the ground.”

Blake also spoke on the number of assassinations during this era.

“There were many that you may not know about because it didn’t make the headlines,” he said.

The Rev. Harry Blake, former civil rights activist, speaks to about 40 students and faculty at the “Call for Unity” panel for Black History Month Feb. 26 in the nursing complex. Blake worked with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to register African-American voters between 1960-1965. In his book “Plantations Protests Pulpits: Lessons from the Phases of My Life,” Blake explains the experiences he went through growingup in the South. Andrea Moreno

Blake mentioned Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist in Mississippi assassinated in 1963 by a Klansman named Byron de la Beckwith.

“We went through a period of violence,” Blake said. “But if you are going to be an agent of change in America, you must be willing to die.”

Blake told students they should take advantage of the opportunities granted to them and to work hard for the change they want to see.

“The future of America is in your hands,” he said. “Students before you have proven that they can bring about change.”

Yvonne-Turnbull Campbell, research specialist and member of the Black History Month Committee, announced the winners for the Black History Month essay contest.

“There were four participants in the essay contest, which was a good thing,” Campbell said.

The first-place essay, “Forged Mirrors,” was by Valijean Eli Romero, health and bioscience sophomore at St. Philip’s College.

Second place was “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” by Lorry Henderson, science and technology sophomore.

Third place was “African Americans in Paris ” by Samaria Williams, American Sign Language and interpreter sophomore.

For additional information, contact Dr. Barbara Knotts, Black History Month Committee chair at 210-486-0593 or visit


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