Who votes and why?
Who stands in the way of progress?
How can we work together to create a more equitable nation?
USA TODAY addressed these issues in a series of live events featuring civil rights activists from today and the 1960s. The events were part of the “Seven Days of 1961” multimedia project, which highlights highlights seven crucial protests in 1961 that helped create a foundation for the civil rights movement and end legal segregation. This sprawling effort was released from September to December and included text stories, a podcast series, graphic novels, videos, an augmented reality experience and more.
You can watch highlights from the September, November and December events here:
The events were meant to pay homage to the mass gatherings held during the civil rights era, when organizers brought freedom fighters together with music, first-hand stories of the struggle and sermons.
The first event, titled “Freedom Now: How Institutions of Power Fuel and Stall Change,” included a musical performance by Charles Neblett, one of the original Freedom Singers, and a reading by Tracy K. Smith, a former State Laureate Poet. -United. States. Panelists included Ja’Mal Green, a Chicago Black Lives Matter activist; Georgia State Senator Kimberly S. Jackson; Brenda Travis, a student leader of the NAACP in the 1960s; and Gerard Robinson, vice president for education at the University of Virginia’s Advanced Studies in Culture Foundation. Daphne Chamberlain, associate professor of history at Tougaloo College, and Deborah Barfield Berry, USA TODAY national correspondent on race and politics, moderated the event.
The second event, titled “Power to the People: How Election Laws Shaped the United States and Black America,” featured panelists Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP; community activist Nupol Kiazolu; Ruby Nell Sales, civil rights veteran; Valerie Jarrett, President of the Barack Obama Foundation and President of Civic Nation; and U.S. Representative Nikema Williams of Georgia. The Florida A&M University Concert Choir performed.
The third event, titled “Change Will Happen: Civil Rights Leaders on How to Fight for Freedom,” included panelists from U.S. Representative James Clyburn; Courtland Cox, former head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Arekia Bennett, executive director of youth civic engagement organization Mississippi Votes and LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund. The event featured performances by the Morgan State University Choir and award-winning poet Evie Shockley.