JoAnne Bland, noted civil rights leader, hugs a young girl who had presented her with roses. She said the youngster was about the age that she was when she was getting arrested in Selma, Alabama. “Thank you for everything you WILL do,” Bland said to her and some other children in attendance.
Noted civil rights pioneer JoAnne Bland was in Knoxville last week and I’m so glad I got to see her. She was at the historic Tennessee Theatre as part of Beck Cultural Exchange Center’s “Eighth of August” celebration. The event also featured the showing of “After Selma,” a documentary about the suppression of voting rights today in America.
Bland, from Selma, Alabama, was arrested 13 times by the time she was 11 years old for participating in acts of civil disobedience. Her prime motivation, she told the audience, was that she just wanted to sit at a lunch counter and eat ice cream. She saw the white kids doing it. And she just couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to, as well.
She also participated as a child in the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that resulted in the nationally televised police attacks that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” She says she will never forget the sound of a woman’s head hitting the pavement after she was struck down with a billy club by a policeman on horseback. Or her 14-year-old sister’s blood dripping on her face as she lay in the backseat of a car in her sister’s lap after fainting. The gashes on her sister’s head as the result of police clubbing that day required 37 stitches.
Bland lost her mother when she was 3 years old. Her mother died in a white hospital while waiting for “black blood” to be shipped in for the transfusion she needed to survive.
Other noted guests at the Eighth of August event included award-winning filmmaker Loki Mulholland, who was responsible for making “After Selma,” and Ned Arter, whose great-great-grandfather was a freed slave named Sam Johnson, once owned and freed by Tennessee’s military governor Andrew Johnson. Through a remarkable story you can read here, Arter came to be in possession of a cane once owned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that Roosevelt had gifted to Arter’s great-great-grandfather. Arter donated the famous cane to the Beck Center during the ceremony.
Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, makes welcoming remarks.
Adriannette Williams of Lincoln Memorial University and Tyvi Small of the University of Tennessee.
Rev. Harold Middlebrook and Tanisha Fitzgerald-Baker.
KUB was well represented. From left, Susan Edwards, Gabriel Bolas, Elba Marshall and Tiffany Martin.
Rev. Reneé Kesler, center, with Sonja Armstrong, left, and Mary Henderson.
From left, Roger Gibson, Caroline Mooney and Monica Johnson.
Gordon and Judy Gibson.
From left, Dr. Joe B. Maddox, Dewey Roberts II, Shieleen and Loki Mulholland.
David Butler, left, with State Rep. Sam McKenzie.
Cynthia Finch and Rev. Charles Lomax.
From left, Rev. Vincent Jones, Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel and LaKenya Middlebrook.
JoAnne Bland with Knoxville historian Bob Booker. In his remarks, Booker told the audience at the Tennessee Theatre that his favorite photo of himself is one of him in the Knoxville jail after he was arrested for trying to buy a ticket to the Tennessee Theatre.
State Sen. Becky Massey, left, with Susan Long.
Tomma Battle and Knox County Schools Superintendent Jon Rysewyk.
From left, Gene Thomas, Bashelia Ward and Sterling Henton.
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, right, with a beautiful but unidentified woman. (Name tags, people!)
Saxophonist Casey McClintock performed from the stairs beside the Tennessee Theatre’s beautiful lobby.
JoAnne Bland. “We have got to be the guardians of our own history,” she said.
Maestro Brian Salesky opened the program with a few selections.
Beck’s board chair, Annazette Houston, made remarks.
Opera singer Michael Rodgers and accompanist A.P. Hardaway. (See below for a portion of this amazing performance.)
Lois Goins LeFlore was presented with the Heritage Award. The lifelong Lonsdale resident graduated from Austin High School and Knoxville College before receiving her master’s degree from UT. She has taught generations of Knoxville students in her 96 years.
Ned Arter presenting Rev. Reneé Kesler with a cane once owned by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Filmmaker Loki Mulholland and JoAnne Bland.
Here’s that inspirational performance by Michael Rodgers: