by Dylan Walton, CPLA Secretary
During our recent excursion to Washington, D.C., the Communications, Politics, and Law Association visited the highly revered Newseum Institute. There were many thought provoking and inspiring exhibits, and two in particular resonated with both the historian and the activist in me; The “1965: Civil Rights at 50” and the “Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement.” Both exhibits highlighted the historic significance of the challenges and successes of the late twentieth century Civil Rights Movement.
The “1965: Civil Rights at 50” exhibit featured a series of stories and displays centered on some of the most widely covered and influential moments at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965. The exhibit spotlighted notable moments of photojournalism, displaying some of the iconic photos that captured the the entire nation’s attention. The Newseum covered it all, with views of the Million Man March and images of the traumatizing brutality endured by John Lewis and his comrades on “Bloody Sunday.”
Similarly notable was the exhibit on the involvement, influence, and impact of student protesters on the movement, especially in regards to the media coverage of it. Images of African-American and white students staging non-violent protests, and still being abused by authorities for non-compliance, were stamped on the public consciousness.
However, what I found most remarkable and moving about these displays was not just the brilliant showcasing of the efforts of civil rights leaders like Malcolm X and Bayard Rustin, but also the parallels seen between the activism of the past and the evolution of the Black Lives Matters movement. Showing the drive of young black Americans striving and fighting for their right to be treated as citizens struck a chord in me. The realization that the pleas of activists in the ’60s – their demands for fairer housing regulations, protection of voting rights, and an end to police brutality – were so eerily similar to the present cries of the struggling black community stung to my core.
As I turned to leave the displays that connected the historic path of our predecessors to the road advocates across the nation are paving for change, I saw an interactive display where visitors of the Newseum Institute answered the question “Have the protests in Ferguson made a difference?” by placing a marker on a board in either a Yes or No column. The markers showed that a majority thought that “No,” the protests had not made a difference. In a way, I understand this response; not enough major pieces of legislation or concrete action have been accomplished since the movement began, so it is reasonable to say that not much of a difference has been made. However, I placed my marker on the “Yes” column. I believe that the early protesters of the Black Lives Matters movement and in Ferguson profoundly changed the trajectory of US political culture. The discussions sparked across the nation shifted public consciousness. Looking back at our history, I saw how important it was for our ancestors to “Make Some Noise,” and I learned that speaking out always makes a difference.