RUSSELLVILLE — When Charles Neblett of Russellville was a college student in 1960, a gathering with both white and black people could lead to everyone’s arrest.
“Segregation was by law,” he said. “Anything that you did to fight for your freedom was against the law.”
The 28th annual Commemorative Unity Walk in Russellville on Friday demonstrated how different things are now. The event brought together about 100 high school students from Logan County and Russellville high schools, who walked from Bank Street AME Zion Church to the Logan County Courthouse.
“It’s a commemorative march to really show the power that ordinary people have in changing their conditions,” Neblett said.
Many students don’t learn about the history of the civil rights movement in school, but it’s important they understand that young people like them played a vital role in the movement, he said.
“They don’t know actually who they really are and the power they have in order to be successful,” he said. “ ... It was the energy and tenacity of young people that really carried that movement. They need to understand they have a lot of social power to make that change.”
Neblett was among the young people fighting for social justice in the 1960s. While a student at Southern Illinois University, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee recruited him to organize sit-ins, freedom rides and voter registration drives in Mississippi and Alabama.
Through events like the unity walk, he hopes to teach today’s young people about the civil rights movement and motivate them to continue fighting for justice.
“Hopefully, we can take some cues from that and see this thing through,” he said. “It’s not over yet. We still have a lot of problems.”
As students prepared to make their way to the courthouse Friday, the master of ceremonies, the Rev. Lee Fishback, encouraged them to reflect on the reason for the walk.
“As you’re chilling on the way over there, just think about the sacrifices that were made for us that we are reaping the benefits of,” he said.
Fishback, pastor of Mount Herman Baptist Church in Adairville, knows that one day can’t give proper credit to the sacrifices made by those who fought for civil rights, but he hopes the unity walk leads to a dialogue between different generations.
“I hope you will be enlightened by the time you leave here today,” he told students.
The Rev. Lee Turner, pastor of Center Baptist Church in South Union, spoke to students at the courthouse about using their imagination to create a new way of looking at the world. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was always trying to put forward a new vision, and Turner encouraged today’s young people to do the same.
“King had a dream, but you have an imagination and it’s up to you to use it,” he said. “Every great thing we have is due to someone’s imagination.”