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posted: 2/23/2013 2:31 PM

Civil rights activists look back at Jackson, Miss., 50 years later

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By Nancy Dunker
North Central College

North Central College presents a panel discussion that reminisces of historic, personal events in 1963 during the civil rights movement at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, in the college's Koten Chapel at Kiekhofer Hall, 329 E. School St., Naperville.

Moderated by North Central College history professor Ann Durkin Keating, the discussion includes three panelists who will share their personal recollections of travels to Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s to work with the civil rights movement and network with churches. Titled "1963 Protests for Civil Rights: Desegregation in Jackson, Mississippi -- A Panel Discussion 50 Years Later," the event is free.

Panelists include Thomas Armstrong, a Naperville resident born in Mississippi, who worked on the front lines of the civil rights movement; the Rev. Martin Deppe, a retired Methodist pastor who served for decades in the Chicago area and participated in efforts to desegregate churches in Jackson; and North Central 1959 alumnus the Rev. Robert Harman, keynote speaker at the college's 2010 Martin Luther King Breakfast, who marched with King in Chicago in 1966.

Keating will start the panel discussion by citing significant events during 1963, including King's penning of the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in April; the assassination of civil rights activist and pioneer Medgar Evers in June; the March on Washington in August that culminated with King's "I Have a Dream" speech; and the bombing in September of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Armstrong, the first panelist, was a student at Tougaloo College, a historically black school in Mississippi. He participated in the 1963-64 church visits and worked to integrate all-white churches in Jackson. He served with Medgar Evers and others on voting rights campaigns and was one of the first Mississippi residents to join the Freedom Riders who tested the laws against segregation, drawing national attention. He wrote "Autobiography of a Freedom Rider: My Life as a Foot Soldier for Civil Rights."

Deppe served as a pastor for decades in Chicago and the suburbs and has many connections to pastors of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church, which had early influences at North Central. He participated in the effort to desegregate churches in downtown Jackson, working alongside Tougaloo students like Armstrong, other Chicago area ministers and with North Central alumni who worked against segregation. Those alumni included Harman, class of 1959, and the Rev. Dr. Richard Tholin, class of 1949.

Harman is a leader in the United Methodist Church, an author, historian and lifelong advocate for civil rights, social justice and worldwide evangelism. While serving an inner-city Chicago congregation, he marched with King, witnessed King's attempts to improve open housing laws, and personally experienced civil disobedience when he was arrested during a march and spent the night in jail. In 2010, North Central recognized his lifelong service and contributions, naming him to the college's Wall of Witness.

In 1965, a group of 120 North Central College students, chaperones and faculty traveled by bus to Selma, Ala., to participate in a march on March 21, with other civil rights supporters. Members of the North Central community have a long history of advocating for civil rights, racial justice and equality.

Various campus groups are co-hosting this event as a way to remember and learn from significant milestones during our nation's struggle for racial justice and equity. The campus groups include Cultural Events; Leadership, Ethics and Values as part of its yearlong focus on moral courage; LEV and Office of International Programs as part of its global human tights focus; and the Office of Multicultural Affairs as a student event during Black History Month.

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