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MLK's Youngest Freedom Fighter to Present at Doane

MLK's Youngest Freedom Fighter to Present at Doane

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Sheyann Webb-Christburg saw the Civil Rights movement through eight-year-old eyes. She sat on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s lap and never forgot the power of his voice and his message. On "Bloody Sunday" in 1965, she was the youngest person to attempt to march to Montgomery.

sheyann webb christburgIn recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Doane College will host Webb-Christburg, known as the "Smallest Freedon Fighter." She will speak on her experiences with Dr. King on January 16, at 1 p.m. in Heckman Auditorium on Doane's Crete campus.

Born in 1956 in Selma, Ala., Webb-Christburg attended a segregated public school until junior high. When she was 8, Dr. King visited Selma to talk about African-Americans' voting rights. Webb-Christburg heard Dr. King's talk in Selma, and soon began skipping school and sneaking out of her house to go to voting rights meetings and demonstrations. She would also lead the congregation in singing freedom songs. Her favorite freedom song was Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.

Demonstrations were also held in nearby counties to try to gain voting rights for African-Americans. During one of these protests, a young man named Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed. In order to draw attention to Jackson's death and unjust treatment of African Americans, a march was organized to end at the state capital of Alabama.

On Sunday, March 7, 1965, the marchers left Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. Webb-Christburg was the youngest person to attempt the march. As the marchers left Selma, they were ordered to turn back. When they refused, police officers beat them with billy clubs and dispersed the group with tear gas. Webb-Christburg was protected by older members of the demonstration. This march later became known as the Bloody Sunday march.

In her presentation, Webb-Christburg will discuss her experiences not only with the Bloody Sunday event, but also her time with Dr. King.

"This is a very special time of year for us," said Wilma Jackson, Doane's Director of Multicultural Support Services. "Not only on campus, but in the community. We are able to recognize a person who lived and gave his life to make the world a better place for others. We are recognizing a person who helped change the world to what it is today; it's an amazing opportunity for us."

Today, Webb-Christburg tours across the country to spread the word of her experiences with Dr. King. She co-authored the book Selma Lord Selma based on the Bloody Sunday march with her childhood friend, Rachel West. The book was made into a Disney movie by the same title.

"I was there," Webb-Christburg said. "I'll never forget when and never forget where and I thank God for allowing me that opportunity, even in the midst of turbulent times, to be a part of that history.....I encourage you to keep hope alive, encourage you to stand up for what you believe is right, but most of  all, encourage you to do something and make a difference."

Watch a video of Webb-Christburg's appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show:

Her interview with Dr. King on YouTube
Posted by Rebecca Svec on 12/14/2011 10:40:00 AM