Lynda Blackmon Lowery has been fighting against racism since she was 7 years old.
In September of 1957 in Alabama, her mother died due to systemic racism in the health care industry, where white doctors didn’t listen to their patients of different races.
“The older people said that she wouldn’t have died if she hadn’t been colored,” Blackmon Lowery recalled Wednesday in an interview with the Tribune.
“I experienced the hate for racism at the age of 7 and I vowed when I got big I was going to change things,” she said.
Blackmon Lowery will be the keynote speaker 7 p.m. Monday during the La Crosse Community Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the Viterbo University Fine Arts Center. Blackmon Lowery’s presentation, “History: Past, Present and Future” will feature not only her work as a civil rights activist, but also the lessons she took from King as a child.
“He brought history into my life at the age of 13 with three powerful words: Steady loving confrontation,” Blackmon Lowery said.
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Blackmon Lowery was invited to help inspire La Crosse’s children, as well as adults, according MLK committee members Shaundel Spivey and Keith Knutson.
The famed civil rights marcher was the youngest person to join King in his march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
At age 15, she was on the front lines of the struggle in Alabama on what’s known as “Bloody Sunday,” where she was beaten along with other marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge who were calling for the government to protect the voting rights of African-Americans across the country.
She needed 35 stitches, but the work of her and others like her eventually got the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed. Blackmon Lowery credits the children of Birmingham and Selma for pushing for those two pivotal pieces of legislation.
Spivey, who works with students at Western Technical College, said young people should be supported.
“Oftentimes young people are told to stay in a kid’s place. The old adage is ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’ That’s never truly been the reality. A lot of the changes that have happened in our nation have come from young folks getting involved, challenging systems and really speaking their minds,” Spivey said.
“Lynda and all the freedom marchers were standing up for their constitutional rights, insisting that the system — our governing apparatus — respect their rights and today we know there are people whose voting rights are being taken away,” Knutson said, referring to the recent legal battle between the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
In that battle, more than 200,000 could be purged from the voting rosters after the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center flagged them as people who have moved since they last registered.
“I think having a guest like Lynda, who displayed remarkable courage as a child and maintained commitment to equal justice for all throughout her life, I think her presence is going to be inspiration for people who are having to fight to maintain their rights,” Knutson said.
The steady loving confrontation King talked about powerfully impacts the present and boldly lets people shape the future, Blackmon Lowery said.
“This is the year 2020. … That’s perfect vision. This is the year of vision, and we will boldly step into the year and change lives and laws as we go,” Blackmon Lowery said.
Her main focus this year is securing voting rights and getting people to the polls to exercise their voice.
“They should use it before they lose it,” she said.
Blackmon Lowery has been encouraged by young people standing up the way she did in the 1960s.
“Today it’s human issues. What affects one affects all. Children are taking the lead in that and that’s refreshing,” she said.
She encourages them to be consistent and keep working.
“Things don’t change overnight and you can’t get discouraged, but once you are out there you can see that with steady loving confrontation there are others who believe in the same nonviolent fight that you believe in and working together you can accomplish anything,” Blackmon Lowery said.
Blackmon Lowry will also be on hand to deliver the La Crosse award that bears her name to Onalaska High School student Jonah Harlan — something she couldn’t be more excited about.
“My head is still up in the clouds,” she said.
Harlan is an active member of the OHS Ujima Club, which works to teach and learn about different cultures and races, as well as a contributor to the Focus on Equality Event held last November.
The award debuted last year, when it went to La Crosse Logan High School student Chariell Butler.
Jourdan Vian can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.