Bringing two sides together

Journalism students and professor to hold historic forum with two civil rights movement figureheads

Story by Courtney Roszak, Staff Writer

Charles Person, then a college freshman at Atlanta Morehouse College, was 18 when he boarded a Washington D.C. bus with 13 other people on May 4, 1961.

Ten days later, the bus stopped in Birmingham, Ala., where Person, and 12 other freedom riders, were severely beaten while police officers did nothing.

More than 50 years later, Person and Drue Lackey, a former Montgomery police officer, will meet for the first time thanks to UW-Eau Claire senior journalism major Ginna Roe.

“Last time I interviewed Charles Person, I asked him if he had ever received any sort of apology from any law enforcement and he said no, he hadn’t,” Roe said. “He didn’t expect to, but it’s always been on his bucket list to sit down and have a conversation with law enforcement.”

The first time Roe went on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage in January 2013, she met a man who knew someone who had fingerprinted Rosa Parks. She later got to interview that individual — Lackey. After talking to both men, Roe was able to set up a meeting between the two, which will take place this Saturday in Atlanta.

Associate professor of journalism Jan Larson helped Roe with funding while fifth-year broadcast journalism student James Pfitzinger helped planned the forum. He also assisted with audio and video to document this historic event.

“It was because of my course that she was able to go on the pilgrimage in the first place,” Larson said. “I had a Civil Rights Pilgrimage course and it was because of that she was able to first meet Mr. Lackey. I’m their producer, I guess, for lack of a better word.”

Roe, Pfitzinger and Larson have spent the past few days down South preparing for the event this weekend.

“Thursday we actually will be sitting down with Mr. Lackey and Charles Person is coming down from Atlanta. So we are actually having a private meeting with them,” Pfitzinger said. “Tuesday we met with Charles Person one-on-one and we got to know him a little bit more, such as his experience as a freedom rider and some of his later parts in life such as when he was involved with the U.S. military.”

The forum is being held at the King Center-Freedom Hall in the Sweet Auburn community, east of downtown Atlanta. Sweet Auburn is where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was raised and did a lot  of preaching during his lifetime.

About 100 students from the university will go on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage to see the forum on Saturday.

For Roe, this is something she said she never dreamed would happen. She said she is excited to see the two men meet and talk this weekend, and it has been an incredible opportunity for her.

“This all stemmed from a conversation I had with a stranger in a Montgomery lunch diner,” Roe said. “I never thought it would come full-circle like this and that we would get to talk to all these historical figures, let alone have them have the opportunity to talk to each other.”