Reunion commemorates Civil Rights rally 52 years ago

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Edwards v. South Carolina is perhaps former civil rights attorney and Judge Matthew Perry's most significant case. It went to the United States Supreme Court, where justices ruled that a group of student protesters were permitted by the 1st and 14th Amendments to peacefully demonstrate unpopular views against segregation.

"The Civil Rights movement in many ways was driven by young people," said historian Ramon Jackson. "By older people it was a community effort and the charismatic leaders are important but so are the foot soldiers the everyday citizens that gain had enough and decided to seek their full claim to citizenship."

It was a cool morning on March 2, 1961, when the student activists, including Isaac Washington, gathered at Zion Baptist Church to march to the State House.

"We were real upbeat," Washington said. "We were singing We Shall Overcome. We sang some old Negro spirituals."

The historic day involved close to 200 students .  Washington said they were met by police officers who told them they had 15 minutes to disperse. But the students stood their ground.

"They took us to jail," said Washington. "We were fingerprinted and then we spent the night in jail."

Washington said they couldn't find vindication here at home, but they found it in the highest court of the land when the case was overturned by the US Supreme Court.

"Very surprised that it went to the Supreme Court," said Washington. "Very surprised that it had to go to the Supreme Court, but I'm happy it did. And the results of that just proved too overwhelming."

And now, 52 years later, the We Shall Not Be Moved Reunion is taking place Sunday, including Congressman James Clyburn, who marched in the mass protest, and James Edwards, who carries the case's namesake.

"I had the pleasure of sitting down with Congressman Clyburn about two weeks ago and one of the things I thought was extremely important about his testimony was that this moment at the State House was a moment that was built by his previous life experience," said Jackson. "This happened because he was reared for activism as an individual that was would have a social consciousness and cared about the community around him."

The event is Sunday at 10:45 with a church service and will be followed by the reunion at the Columbia Metropolitan Covent ion Center from 3-5 p.m.  It is free but seating is limited.

Tickets can be secured through Saturday night.

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