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This item originally appeared in the Feb. 19, 2004, issue of The Tech Talk.


Staff Writer

Students and faculty were able to experience a part of north Louisiana's history Feb. 11 during a forum held in the Wyly Tower of Learning Auditorium.

The forum focused on the Deacons for Defense in North Louisiana and discussed members' experiences, accomplishments and hardships. The panel consisted of former Deacons and women who worked with the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE.

The Deacons of Defense was organized by residents of Jonesboro in the 1960s. During the forum, the panelists described how this group of men stood up for civil rights and were willing to do what was necessary, even if that meant taking violent measures.

The Deacons also defended the Freedom House in Jonesboro and CORE. The CORE was a group of black men and women who believed in non-violence.

"The type of social history I'm looking for is usually not found in the history books; it's carried around in the memories and experiences of the people like the members of the panel," Dr. David Anderson, co-organizer of the forum and an assistant professor of history, said.

The panelists included Dr. Lance Hill, Harvie Johnson, Earlean Knox, Annie P. Mason Johnson, Bertha Bradford-Robinson and Charlie White.

Each panelist spoke about the role he or she played in the civil rights movement and his or her involvement with the Deacons. They shared personal experiences they had during this time.

Robinson was the first black woman to graduate from Tech. She graduated in 1970, along with James Potts, the first black man to graduate from the university. Since then she has been back to Tech many times. Robinson said she enjoyed speaking at the forum.

"It's informative, and I was very elated to see the students' faces," Robinson said. "It was such a joy to me to see young people of both races interacting and getting along."

Hill wrote the upcoming book "Deacons for Defense, Armed Resistance in the Civil Rights Movement." He is the executive director of the Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University in New Orleans.

"The free speech and free expression that we enjoy today, all of us, whites and blacks alike, is really the fruit of these great people who stood up for what was right," Hill said.

Knox and Annie P. Mason Johnson were members of CORE and were very active in the civil rights movement, and White was a Deacon. Harvie Johnson was one of the men who organized the group in Jonesboro in an effort to integrate the libraries.

"We wanted equal opportunities for ourselves and our families, to hold a job, to go to school and to go to the libraries," Johnson said.

Students were given a chance at the end of the forum to ask questions of the panelists and make comments on what they heard and thought.

"It was very interesting," Jarred Hamilton, a freshman marketing major, said. "It told me points that I had never heard about. I had never heard about the organization."

Dr. Reginald Owens, co-organizer of the forum and an associate professor of journalism, said these men and women helped in the success of the civil rights movement.

"Things are a lot better thanks to the courageous efforts of people like the Deacons for Defense, who so gallantly risked their lives so I can stand here, and we could be sitting, all of us, in this room together," Owens said during the forum.

He also said the forum was about getting a better understanding of the past so we can progress now into the future.

Owens said, "That is what this was all about."

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