Recalling the Civil Rights Movement; A Prominent Figure Then Tells Why It's Still Relevant Today

Article excerpt

Byline: SUSAN D. BRANDENBURG

Members and guests of the National League of American Pen Women were taken back in time recently by journalist Charles E. Cobb Jr., former field secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee during the 1960s civil rights era.

In a talk at Cobblestones Restaurant on Atlantic Boulevard titled "Look Back, Move Forward - Understanding the Relevance of the Civil Rights Movement Today," Cobb read excerpts from his upcoming book, On the Freedom Road: A Guided Tour of Civil Rights Trails.

Now a senior writer and diplomatic correspondent for AllAfrica.com and a resident of Springfield, Cobb has had an impressive career in journalism, with more than a decade as a member of the editorial staff of National Geographic Magazine and many years as a foreign affairs reporter for National Public Radio and the Africa News Service.

A native of Washington, D.C., Cobb began his talk with a defining civil rights moment that happened in his hometown before he was born. It was after famed black contralto Marian Anderson was denied permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing in Constitution Hall. An incensed Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR and vowed to help Anderson find an appropriate recital space in the city for performance of the 1939 Easter Sunday concert.

On that chilly morning of April 9, wrapped in her mink coat and singing before a crowd of more than 75,000 people, "Marian Anderson completely transformed the racial prejudice and discrimination that had forced her concert outdoors into an affirmation of the inevitability of change."

Listening intently as Cobb spoke was civil rights activist Stetson Kennedy, 91, who sat at the table with Anderson's wife, Ann Chinn, and NLAPW officers Phoebe Marner and Jackie Hand (co-presidents) and Pat Setser (treasurer). It was the first time the two like-minded men of different generations had met.

What marked the modern civil rights era ('50s, '60s and '70s), according to Cobb, was that previously silent voices began to speak up in such a way that could not be ignored.

"These were ordinary people in the mid-20th century that, through organization and direct action, changed a way of life," he said. …

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