COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – The south is the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement and the fight for equal rights played out right here in Columbus nearly 60 years ago.

Educators across the Chattahoochee Valley are focusing on our youth this Black History Month. The Civil Rights Movement initiated a shift in society, a shift towards equality. In the summer of 1961, Columbus youth stood up to fight against segregation. 

The Columbus History Museums’ newest exhibit, Journey Towards Justice: Civil Rights in the Chattahoochee Valley, focuses on the civil rights movement and highlights key events that happened right here in the fountain city.

In honor of Black History Month, the museum hosted close to 550 students from across the Chattahoochee Valley in a round table discussion titled, ‘Creating Change: Youth Leaders in the Local Civil Rights Movement’ via zoom.

The panel included 4 different former youth activists Bunky McClung Clark, Ethalyn Kirby, Rev. Rudy Allen Sr., and Ibrahim Mumin.

Students heard firsthand what it was like to walk the streets of Columbus back in 1961. One of the panelists, Bunky McClung Clark, was as young as 15.

“We were your age at that time trying to identify with what in the world was going on…. When I left Columbus, Spencer High School, Spencer was still segregated so we were all black we felt good together we felt bad together our teachers helped us out”

Bunky McClung Clark, Columbus Civil Rights Activist

Clark went on to explain that youth today have more access to information when it comes to education regarding social injustice.

Educational specialist Lucy Kacir with the Columbus Museum says kids are never too young to have open and honest conversations about race and how it affects our society.

“Children as young as six months have been documented to recognize and react to racial differences in their caretakers, and we need to address this head-on.”

Lucy Kacir – Director of Education and Engagement, The Columbus Museum

State learning standards in Georgia look at the civil rights movement on a national scale as well as statewide and regional events, but teachers here in Muscogee County are focused on including Columbus’ role in the Civil Rights movement.

“To see the lightbulb kind of go off with certain students when they learn like, what that happened especially in Columbus there’s so many different things that have happened in Columbus that have never really been highlighted.”

Kewanna Taylor – Social Studies Teacher at East Columbus Magnet Academy

This round table allowed students the opportunity to see how youth stepped up to impact change in our society. Columbus born and raised, Reverend Rudy Allen Sr. was 24 years old in the summer of 1961, when he organized bus protests to desegregate the Columbus City Buses.

“We thought that was really important for them to understand that there wasn’t just Rosa Parks in Montgomery protesting bus segregation, there were people here bravely doing the same thing as well.”

Lucy Kacir – Director of Education and Engagement, The Columbus History Museum

Educators say they take their responsibility seriously.

“If you don’t educate the youth, it pretty much gets lost. And when you lose sight of something in history you kind of make the same mistakes … You can’t break a cycle until you get to teach them how to break a cycle.”

Kewanna Taylor – Social Studies Teacher at East Columbus Magnet Academy

Fort Middle School Teacher of the Year Yasmine Myers wants the youth to understand they are never too young to make an impact on society.

“I love my students to be able to learn about their pasts, and my students are always interested in what has happened before them, and so them being able to learn particularly black history there able to change the future I teach a lot of students who are African American, so them to being able to understand and learn from the past they can shape the future”

Yasmine Myers – Social Studies teacher at Fort Middle School

Kacir says the exhibition is just a starting point in the conversation.

“It’s really important for parents to continue to educate themselves on these topics, there are resources online specifically with strategies and ideas on how to talk about these things with your children … Learning is a lifelong process, whether you are in 3rd grade or whether you are retired, there are always new things for us to learn, we just have to seek out those opportunities.”

Lucy Kacir – Director of Education and Engagement, The Columbus History Museum

Youth activists had an impact on the local civil rights movement in Columbus leading to the desegregation of city buildings like the Columbus Library. Educators want students to know their voice and their actions have power in their communities and that they are not too young to get involved in issues to create change.