Friday, students quietly gathered around the eternal flame as they embraced history.
It was a warm, sunny morning when Florida A&M’s faculty, staff, students and members of the public joined together to experience, “Revisiting the Battlefield: Mobilizing the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Era.” The cast, dressed in all black, reenacted a sit-in that took place 50 years ago.
The narrators, Alexandria Collins, Alisa Routh and Kennard Speed, took the crowd through each sit-in as students protested, were arrested and tear-gassed. There were four bunks, one toilet and over a hundred of students in jail as a result of a protest.
Students were now able to decipher what really happened 50 years ago. Some do not realize that Tallahassee did not become desegregated until 1963.
Sean Hobson, 21, a third year elementary education student from Atlanta, explained the emotional effect the experience had on him.
“They could have been more creative, but I was delighted to watch this experience,” Hobson said. “It inspired a lot of people to do right. It opened people’s eyes and showed what we need to improve on.”
After the re-enactment, Yanela Gordon, an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, acknowledged the foot soldiers along with Priscilla Stephens Kruize-sister of Patricia Stephens Due, wearing an orange and green dress.
“I’m proud that I get to see this day,” Kruize said, while wiping away tears.
Gordon then asked that everyone march to the Grand Ballroom while singing, “Ain’t Gon’ let Nobody turn us Around.”
Walking into the Grand Ballroom, people were greeted with a sign bearing the declaration of “Give us back our students.” The panel discussion soon started shortly after everyone was seated.
Herron Gaston, a Florida Gubernational Fellow 2009-2010, opened the discussion with a prayer. His prayer was followed by a series of musical selections, including a performance by Saundra Inge, director of FAMU Office of Student Activities.
Once the panel discussion opened for questions, the crowd learned what the actual experience was like for the panelists during the Civil Rights Era. Rev. CK Steele, a former pastor of Bethel Baptist Church and a prominent figure in the Tallahassee civil rights era, described his experience of having his house shot at and a cross burned in his front lawn.
Robert Perkins, group spokesmen for 1969 Malcolm X United Liberation Front, firmly explained that their decisions could have cost them their lives, as the policemen were not just policemen but Klansmen as well.
Bob Rackleff, chairman of the Leon County Board of County Commissioners, was asked why he decided to be involved in the integration movement. He was a junior in high school at the time. Rackleff, who is white, said he simply wanted change. He was not allowed to go to school with blacks. He said his ideologies helped him become involved and also helped integrate Florida State University.
It was mutually agreed by the panel that the struggles didn’t matter to them at the time: they sought to change Tallahassee, and wanted to be heard and counted. The panelists emphasized the importance of going the extra mile to make a difference.
“It is the footsteps [and] the feet of our elders [that helped us] gain that experience and I hope it was made an impact,” Gordon said. She said she was pleased and overwhelmed with the turnout.
“It feels great to be a part of this,” said cast member Riccardy Volcy, a fourth year architecture student from Orlando by way of Haiti. “It wasn’t until I stood there and saw tears run down the foot soldiers’ eyes [that] I realized how important it was for me to take part, and what impact the re-enactment had on them. I will always remember this date.”