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The journey continues

Note: A team from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire joins the 2015 winter Civil Rights Pilgrimage to document students' experiences and stories on the 10-day journey through history. Writer Shari Lau, videographer Glen Mabie and photographer Heidi Giacalone will provide daily updates from the pilgrimage, highlighting the historic sites and people who fought for equality during the civil rights movement.

All stories from the winter 2015 Civil Rights Pilgrimage can be read on the UW-Eau Claire news website.

Jan. 14, 2015

Almost 50 years ago, about 600 people embarked on a journey to end discrimination in voter registration as they set out to march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama. At the Edmund Pettus Bridge however, state and local lawmen attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas, driving them back to Selma.

On Wednesday morning, 71 UW-Eau Claire students linked arms and held hands as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in honor of the March 7, 1965 march that earned the nickname "Bloody Sunday" for the violence inflicted on the protesters.

"I tried visualizing what everyone who marched in 1965 was feeling," said Kristen Heller, a senior from Random Lake. "I felt a sense of determination along with a bit of fear."

Before crossing the bridge, students were challenged by civil rights activist Joanne Bland to think about what they were marching for on this day. Bland was one of the original participants of the Selma to Montgomery march. She was only 11 years old.

"While we were marching, I thought about my desire to advocate for others," Heller said. "I have a brother with special needs and have seen the needs that are not being met. Through my degree in social work I want to make that difference for other people and help them get the things they need. I want to be a resource and source of power who advocates for others and shows them that they are people who can't be shoved off to the side."

Bland also guided students through a tour of Selma, where racism and segregation are still prevalent.

"I'm sure seeing signs of racism and segregation every day is incredibly hard, but at the same time it's also a reminder of where things were and how far we've come," Heller said. "It ensures that we will never forget and that's the most important thing. Don't ever let that time be forgotten. History needs to be talked about so it doesn't repeat itself."

The experience in Selma and throughout the Civil Rights Pilgrimage has been very eye opening and has provided a unique learning environment, Heller said.

"You learn about the struggle for civil rights in the history books, but you can't fully appreciate and understand it until you come here and actually see what happened and where it happened," Heller said. "Talking to the people who lived through it gives much more meaning. Oral tradition is important. Hearing people tell their stories and feeling their emotion is what makes learning about history that much more fulfilling."

Thursday, students will be touring sites of importance to the Civil Rights Movement throughout the city of New Orleans. Highlights include Jackson Square, shotgun houses throughout the city and areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.