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'Bloody Sunday' civil rights activist is focus of Oklahoma Christian University event

JoAnne Bland, a civil rights activist who took part in the "Bloody Sunday" march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, poses for a picture on the bridge in her hometown of Selma, Alabama. [Jazmine Powers Photography]
JoAnne Bland, a civil rights activist who took part in the "Bloody Sunday" march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, poses for a picture on the bridge in her hometown of Selma, Alabama. [Jazmine Powers Photography]

A civil rights activist who marched on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on "Bloody Sunday" will be the featured guest for Oklahoma Christian University's 2021 "History Speaks" event.

The free event will be virtual and available for viewing at 6 p.m. Sunday at

"History Speaks" is Oklahoma Christian's annual event highlighting civil rights activists. In an interview with OC's History Speaks founder Gary Jones, the 2021 featured speaker, JoAnne Bland, 68, will discuss her life as a leader fighting for equality. Among other things, Bland served as co-founder of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, Alabama, and she speaks and leads tours with Journeys for the Soul.

In 1965, Bland was a seasoned marcher and civil rights activist who had been arrested during civil rights activities 13 times by the time she was 11.

A march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Bland's hometown of Selma, Alabama, was planned for March 7, 1965. When the day of the march came, Bland found herself near the center of the group of marchers.

On previous marches, activists would kneel in prayer after law enforcement officers denied their request to pass. But on the day that became known as "Bloody Sunday," state troopers met the activists' request with violence.

"There was nowhere to go. They were just beating people. I can still hear the sound of a lady's head hitting the pavement. Sickening," Bland told Jones.

In spite of the horrific and violent end to the "Bloody Sunday" march, Bland participated in another march two weeks later alongside civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery. By many accounts, this march was a pivotal event in advancing the Voting Rights Act which was signed five months later.

Both the march on "Bloody Sunday" and the march with King a few weeks later were dramatized in the 2014 critically acclaimed movie "Selma."

At the scene

Oklahoma Christian University President John deSteiguer is committed to recognizing racial injustice in the school's history and educating the campus community for a future that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, the university said in a news release.

"History Speaks" is in keeping with the university leader's commitment and Jones, OC's assistant dean of students, said he was happy to let the community know that it would be returning in a virtual format.

"The calls have been coming in. The emails have been coming in. Everyone wants to know are we having 'History Speaks 2021," he said.

The collegiate leader said he knew that the speakers series had become a much-anticipated part of Black History Month for OC and the community-at-large as he recalled the first program which featured civil rights activists Terrence Roberts, and Carlotta Walls LaNier, two members of the "Little Rock Nine" who integrated Little Rock High School in 1957. Jones said he also thought about other History Speaks guests like Claudette Colvin, Andrew Young, Diane Nash, Wheeler Parker Jr., John Carlos, Tommie Smith and Raymond Santana.

He said the decision was made to travel to Selma, Alabama, to interview Bland at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the scene of "Bloody Sunday" and present the discussion with the civil rights activist in a virtual pandemic-safe format. The online presentation will include an interview with Bland and she will also be shown leading Jones and the OC media team on a tour of Selma, which included sites like Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the Bloody Sunday March began.

"So although it will be different, it will still be the same," Jones said of the virtual event.

"You'll have the opportunity to learn from history and to touch history and to engage with family and friends but in a safe and socially distant way."

Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›