Civil Rights protesters: key to the Black Lives Matter movement lies in the past

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the African American Civil Rights Movement was in full force. Local sit-ins, such as one in Hampton in a Woolworth’s on Feb. 11, 1960, played a major part in the desegregation and normalization of the Tidewater region. Lula Sears Rogers was at that sit-in; she was attending Hampton University — then called Hampton Institute.

“They shot water on us, and we just walked right on through the water, unbeknownst about any of this fighting,” Rogers said. “We sat right there with our books in our hands, and then when it was time for my classes, I got up and somebody else sat in that seat and I went on back over to Hampton. Meanwhile, they were spraying water on us walking back because that’s what they did during this time.”

Recent protests across the nation have caused a considerable amount of backlash from opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement. The killing of 10 police officers in the US over the course of the last two weeks has resulted in counter-protest from Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter supporters, even going as far as petitioning the White House to label the BLM organization as a terror group.

For Rogers, it wasn’t until she got to college in 1959 when she realized she needed to join her generation’s movement. Growing up, she didn’t know anything but segregation, she said.

“It was the norm,” Rogers said. “Everything was segregated. The bathrooms were segregated. You couldn’t even go downtown on Granby Street and buy a hot dog or hamburger and a drink. You had to come back home and get your lunch.”

When asked if she was afraid during these sit-ins, she said, “I guess I was a little afraid.” What she feared most though was letting her mother down by getting into trouble, or her mother finding out she was protesting to begin with. Even with all of the potential consequences, Rogers knew she couldn’t disappoint her peers.

“I knew my mother was over here struggling trying to pay for me to go to a private institution, but I couldn’t let those students down who were trying to get together,” Rogers said.

Rogers said the major problem with today’s protests is that the protesters want to use violence to solve their issues.

“We did not have guns, we did not have drugs, we did not have any of that to deal with. We were just non-violent people,” Rogers said.

Roger’s daughter Alexis, participated in The Silent Mile march held on July 13 in Norfolk. She said she feels that protesters nowadays differ in many ways from protesters during the 1950s and 1960s.

“It’s a different mind frame because I know if I was being attacked by a dog because of my color or I was being sprayed with water, I would respond in a much different way than my mom did,” Alexis Rogers said. “They were taught that even though you’re colored, you still have to stand strong and continue to be non-violent. It’s a different mentality and it’s a different understanding of what exactly they went through and how they handled it versus now.”

Alexis Rogers also said that the BLM movement is very unorganized, and that there isn’t a clear message the movement is getting behind.

“We wanna march, we wanna protest, we wanna shut this tunnel down, but what exactly are we doing? What’s the message that we’re really trying to send?” Alexis Rogers said. “I’m really into what’s going on, but until I know that it’s going to be something that’s organized and it’s going to be something that's really gonna make a change, I would rather do what I have to do from behind instead of just going out.”

Rodney Jordan, a Norfolk School Board member, said that he has “mixed emotions” regarding the BLM movement, but that they are far more positive than negative.

Jordan said he is “encouraged and excited about young people and citizens in general being engaged and involved in something that they believe in.”

“While I’m pleased with the effort and agree with many of the objectives, I would like to see some additional targeted goals and outcomes that reflect what citizens will do,” Jordan said.

During Jordan’s senior year at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, Norfolk was looking to become the first school division in the country to end cross-town busing for the purpose of racial desegregation.

In the 1970s and 1980s, cross-town busing was utilized to promote diversity by busing kids from predominantly black neighborhoods to schools that were predominantly or completely white. On May 13, 1983, a protest of more than 6,000 people was held in Norfolk to protest the school board's plan to stop busing students to cross-town schools.

“I can recall one of the few times I can think of in my entire public education career my parents let me miss a day of school, and one was to come to Norfolk and participate in a march that was taking place from Lafayette Park to City Hall against the effort to re-segregate our schools, and for the effort of maintaining diversity in our schools through busing,” Jordan said.

Jordan said he feels that although many people are joining in on the protests to change the way police and governments operate, ordinary people are not willing to change their ways as well to try and help push the movement even more.

“[The 10-point manifesto of the BLM movement] calls upon the police department to do several things, it calls upon the local and state federal governments to do several things, but I don't see where it calls upon ordinary citizens or neighbors to do things,” Jordan said. “[Back during the 1950s and 1960s] there were actions they were calling upon individual citizens for us to change our ways as citizens, in addition to what was being demanded from our government.”

Olivia Hoke, 16, is involved in BLM protests. She participated in the July 10 protest on Granby Street in Norfolk in which BLM protesters blocked traffic for nearly an hour. Three days later, she participated in The Silent Mile march.

“I try to advocate others to join the movement,” Hoke said. “I use my voice to help people make the right decision.”

Hoke said she feels that people who say All Lives Matter don’t really understand what the movement is and what it truly stands for.

“They don’t understand there are still problems,” she said. “People who say All Lives Matter should be educated” for what the purpose of the movement is.

Hoke said recent police shootings are “sad and unfortunate.”

“Of course the lives of cops matter,” she said. “People shouldn’t use it [police shootings] against the BLM movement though.”

During the original African American Civil Rights Movement, leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. took charge of the campaign that would ultimately lead to the desegregation of American society. The BLM movement is missing a good leader, Rogers said.

“We don’t have Dr. King anymore, and these people could give a good hoot about non-violence, because that’s what they want to do,” Rogers said.

Tyler Gray and Cliff Rhodes, two members of the First Baptist Church Norfolk, also said BLM needs a leader.

“We need a one voice,” said Gray. “BLM is like a tree with a bunch of branches. No one wants to make a compromise.”

Jordan and Hoke, on the other hand, said that having a leader could be a danger to the movement.

“People target leaders of a movement, so maybe it’s best that there is no leader,” Jordan said.

“Not everyone agrees on what should be done,” Hoke said. “It should be run by majority instead of a single person”

The varying opinions towards the BLM movement have caused controversy and sparked countless debates on the issue. Rogers said the only way the movement will make any progress is if everyone comes together on this issue and sees a non-violent approach.

“We didn’t know anything more than what Dr. Martin Luther King was telling us to do,” she said. “And that is if we all want to come together, we all must come together.”