Civil rights activist rewinds time in Kent State U. speech
February 28, 2001
By Matt Lehman
Daily Kent Stater
Kent State U.
(U-WIRE) KENT, Ohio - Attorney and civil rights activist Staughton Lynd
attempted to turn minds into time machines Tuesday afternoon on the 12th
floor of the library at Kent State University.
"I'd like to bring time back a little," Lynd said.
The audience listened carefully as Lynd discussed how the civil rights
movement had first come to his attention. Lynd was driving a young
African-American woman to her home in Montgomery, Ala. The young woman had
been meeting with Lynd in Georgia, and she needed a ride home. Lynd said
that because of the driving time between Georgia and Alabama, he just
assumed he would be offered a place to stay when they arrived. Instead, he
was greeted by an uncertain and concerned mother.
"She opened the door, and I just assumed I would be offered a place for the
night," Lynd said. "She looked at her daughter, looked at me, swallowed
hard and after a long pause invited me in."
Lynd said he later felt embarrassed after assuming that being white and
staying at the woman's house was not a big deal.
More than 40 students and faculty filled the usually quiet special
collection's reading room to hear Lynd tell this story and others about his
involvement in the civil rights movement of the early '60s.
Kent State Library and Media Services held the presentation in honor of
Black History Month.
During the presentation, Lynd also mentioned some of the books he feels
most accurately describe the civil rights movement. The titles included a
biography of Martin Luther King Jr. and a book written by Charles Payne
called I've Got the Light of Freedom. Payne's book appealed to Lynd because
of the attention the book gives to the women in Mississippi during the
Lynd also told of the unique experience of being offered a teaching
position at Spelman College in Georgia, an African American, all-women's
school. Lynd accepted the offer but said at the time the request seemed
"I thought it seemed odd for a white professor to coordinate a program for
black teenagers," Lynd said.
Sometimes emotionally, Lynd told other stories to the audience. He
discussed being the director of the freedom schools in Mississippi during
the summer Freedom Project of 1964. Freedom schools were make-shift high
schools for young African American men and women set up throughout
Mississippi. He also offered some of his thoughts on the murders of three
civil rights workers that year near the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Freshman marketing major Rachelle Brown attended Lynd's presentation and
said his stories showed her the reality of the movement.
"They made me realize what went on then," Brown said. "They let you know
that people put their lives on the line."
Lynd was not alone in his involvement. Lynd's wife, Alice, has been with
him through many of his experiences. Lynd went on to describe why he and
his wife chose to take part in the movement.
"We had the opportunity to do something that [most] white people in this
country (didn't) do," Lynd said. "We took place in an inter-racial movement
with black leaders."
Lynd also commented on the current state of affairs in the United States
and how his experiences showed him that the key to change is coming together.
"We did the best we could," Lynd said. "I think in the end we aren't going
to be able to change things that disturb us in this society until we get"
At the end of his presentation, Lynd, backed by his wife, led the audience
in singing the civil rights song, "Eye on the Prize." Audience members
stood with their arms around each other as Lynd and his wife sang the
verses in perfect tune.
Lynd is not a stranger to Kent State. He was a guest speaker for the
Friends of the Library Dinner in April, 1998 and gave a presentation called
"Labor History, Oral History and May 4."
Jeanne Somers, senior secretary in the library administration office, said
Lynd has an ongoing relationship with Kent State.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he comes back in five years or so in some
capacity," Somers said.
Some of Lynd's papers can be viewed in the special collections area of the
library, and more will be added in the future.
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