“We bled, we got beat, we went to jail, we got murdered. Pay up.” said Harry “Spike” Moss. “Make sure they (young people) understand that there is a debt to be paid. We didn’t do any of this in vain.”
The Minnesota History Center hosted an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of a pivotal year in American history, 1968. Along with the opening of an exhibit commemorating the year, Comcast teamed with NBCUniversal and The Equal Justice Initiative to present an award-winning documentary, “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement.” The celebration held on Oct. 4 featured clips of five civil rights leaders in the Twin Cities.
Since the start of the “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement” project in 2013, Comcast managed to accumulate more than 200 interviews comprised of first-hand accounts from civil rights voices all over the world. The goal is to preserve the legacy of civil rights icons and highlight efforts they made to make this world a better place for generations to come.
“With this exhibit, it is critical that we examine the past, learn from it, and move forward in better ways for the future,” said Phyllis Rawls Goff, president of Minnesota Historical Society’s government board.
The five voices honored from the Twin Cities were Harry “Spike” Moss, Dr. Josie R. Johnson, Mahmoud El-Kati, former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, and Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul.
Moss has been an active participant in the civil rights movement for more than four decades. Likening himself to a “by any means necessary” approach, Moss preferred to demand freedom and equality rather than asking for it. As a youth, Moss recalls witnessing his mother’s dream get crushed because Black people were not allowed in the field she wanted to work. This defining moment was a catalyst for his decision to join the fight for equality. He said he believes the youth have a great deal of responsibility to repay those who fought for younger generations to have a better life. They fought for young people to succeed, so the youth owe it to them to do so.
Johnson is a large part of why we are able to live in any area we desire in Minnesota. As a member of the NAACP and the Minneapolis Urban League, she began lobbying against housing discrimination in Minnesota. What she found was that there were areas designated for Black residents in North and South Minneapolis. Anywhere outside of those boundaries were not welcoming to Black people. Due to Johnson’s contributions, the practice of redlining was outlawed. Johnson, who recently celebrated her 87th birthday, was also honored for her work on voting rights. She also served as the first Black on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents.
Professor of history at Macalester College, El-Kati in a video presentation pointed out how young children in schools do not see representation in their history books.
“The civil rights activists of the ‘60s and ‘70s have lived up to their moral assignments. Now it’s your turn to pick up the baton,” said El-Kati, talking about the next generation of activists.
Sayles Belton was the first Black mayor and the first woman mayor of Minneapolis. Sayles Belton said she immersed herself in the Civil Rights Movement after witnessing the hatred and violence directed toward Black voters in the South. Sayles Belton’s advice for the youth is to speak up and voice their opinions.
“I think adults are being inspired by the youth. And for that reason, I want to give them a megaphone,” said Sayles Belton.
Carter was the final honoree of the night. In his segment, “Choosing Love in Divisive Times,” he talked about his experience being turned away at a voting poll in the 2000 election. This feeling, which he described as social powerlessness, is something he never expected to be subjected to in his lifetime. This upsetting experience along with being a student during the time that a series of racially-motivated pipe bombs were set off on the campus of his historically Black college, Florida A&M University (FAMU), inspired him to get politically active. Now Carter is one of three former FAMU students serving as mayors of major cities, with Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta and Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, Fla. the others. Gillum is the Democratic nominee to become governor of Florida.
These five interviews along with over 200 more segments can be viewed on www.civrightsvoices.com and are available on Xfinity on Demand as well as online regardless if one is a Comcast customer. The “1968” exhibit is currently open to the public at the Minnesota History Center, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul.