After facing years of tragedy, abuse and insult, famed civil rights marcher and activist Lynda Blackmon Lowery said she continues to fight for rights in 2020.
Lowery was the keynote speaker at the La Crosse Community Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Viterbo University on Monday. Her presentation, “History: Past, Present, and Future,” shed light on her life growing up in the segregated south.
Lowery said her first thought of activism occurred in 1957. She was 7 years old at the time, and her mother had just passed away.
“Older people said my mother wouldn’t have died if she wouldn’t have been colored,” Lowery said. “My mother needed a blood transfusion, but there was no negro blood in the all-white hospital in Selma, Ala., so the blood had to be sent 96 miles from Birmingham by Trailway bus.”
Her mother died 15 minutes before her father delivered the blood to Burwell Infirmary.
“My father did not pass until 1972, but I used to hear my daddy saying all the time, ‘I was 15 minutes too late.’ That has always stuck with me,” she said. “When I was 7, I said that when I got big, I was going to change things, and nobody would grow up without a mommy again because of the color of her skin.”
Lowery said she heard Dr. King speak when she was 13 years old, and it changed her life. She and her younger sister, Joanne, were on the front lines of several historic marches, including “Bloody Sunday” and “Turn Around Tuesday.”
“My sister Joanne was 11, and she went to jail 11 times,” Lowery said. “I was 14, and I went to jail nine times before I turned 15.”
While marching on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, Lowery was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Her injuries required seven stitches over her right eye and 28 over the back of her head.
“Nobody, me nor anybody on that bridge that day that was so brutally attacked deserved anything that happened to us.”
When asked about the progress made in society, Lowery questioned that word because she felt as if culture had regressed.
“It makes me angry,” Lowery said. “If anybody had told me in 1965 that in the year 2020, we would still be out there fighting nonviolently for basic human rights, I would have laughed at them, but we are. I am living history. I think the impact on young people today is the fact that they can see these things did not happen so long ago.”
She believed it is up to young people and women today to take the lead in standing up for human rights to bring the progress full circle.
“This is 2020, the year of vision. We are going to need to get to the polls and vote. We are going to need to educate people. We have to go back to the grassroots tactics of registering and educating and committing and making sure people go to the polls. It is one thing to register. It is another thing to exercise that right.”
Lowery expressed concern for voter suppression across the nation. When asked if she supported any particular candidate in the 2020 presidential election, she said she is still learning about each candidate and will make that decision before her home state of Alabama hosts Super Tuesday in March.