Students bring civil rights leader Bernard Lafayette to the UW

Bernard Lafayette sings freedom songs with the pilgrimage group in March.

Bernard Lafayette sings freedom songs with the pilgrimage group in March.

Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette is the first Civil Rights leader that the pilgrimage group listened to back in early March as 30 students and supporters of the Department of Communication embarked on a journey across the South that would soon challenge their ideas about the history of race and how it affects the world today.

“When I heard Dr. Lafayette speak, I was captivated by the ideology of nonviolence,” said senior Journalism student Devon Geary. “The concept of choosing not to spite the enemy – the perpetrator of ugly brutality, of violence – but to love them into submission, love them until their will to hate crumbles.”

Lafayette was a leader in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, playing a crucial role in the sit-ins that desegregated Nashville in 1960 and the marches from Selma to Montgomery that culminated in Bloody Sunday in 1965. He was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was arrested 27 different times throughout the movement.

“Bernard inspired me to live more courageously just by telling stories of his involvement in the Civil Rights movement,” said Aida Solomon, a senior Communication student at the UW. “His stories will resonate with so many students and faculty and will continue his legacy of the nonviolence practice and philosophy that he has dedicated his entire life to. In addition, his foundational involvement in the SNCC and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) can truly resonate with students who are currently advocating about social issues within their communities.”

For these reasons, the students of the pilgrimage wanted to bring Lafayette to Washington to share with the greater community what they learned in just a few hours – and to share that the Civil Rights Movement is more than what is taught from the history books in grade school.

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A mugshot of a young Lafayette is displayed on the back wall of a jail cell replica at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma.

Inspired by Lafayette’s account of the Freedom Rides, where Lafayette was beaten and imprisoned, senior Communication and English student Patrick Okocha said, “I want to bring Lafayette to campus to inform our communities of additional Civil Rights heroes who are not necessarily recognized for their contributions to the movement. I want Lafayette to speak to our students and inspire them to continue to fight for the changes that they want to implement.”

The organization and fundraising efforts of Lafayette’s visit are headed by Geary, Solomon, and Okocha. Lafayette will arrive next week on April 29, with a packed schedule for four days that includes a two-day nonviolence workshop. If you would like to see Lafayette speak, here are two public events that you may attend on Wednesday, April 30:

  • Public Talk from 9 to 11 a.m., hosted by the UW School of Social Work in Room 305 (4101 15th Ave. NE, Seattle). RSVP here.
  • Public Talk at Mount Baker Community Club (2811 Mount Rainier Dr. S., Seattle) from 7 to 9 p.m. (No RSVP required.)