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Keeping our Eyes on the Prize

Mollie Finch Belt | 5/5/2014, 5:29 a.m.

The Dallas Examiner

Last week my husband and I looked at Eyes on the Prize, the award-winning six-hour PBS documentary series on the Civil Rights Movement that tells the struggle of Blacks fighting for racial equality and social justice from 1954 to 1965. The documentary teaches essential lessons about race, leadership and justice for all.

Periodically, we look at the tapes to refresh our memory of the Civil Rights Movement, even though we lived through it and participated in it, we still need to remember.

The documentary is painful to watch. The actual pictures of the movement – the policemen turning fire hoses on Black students, the hatred and determination of some White Southerners to keep Blacks and Whites separated, students being yelled at and called names, students being pushed with billy clubs by policemen, the murder of Emmitt Till and the trial that freed those who murdered him, the murder of Medgar Evers in his front yard while his wife and children were in the house.

The determination of Martin Luther King Jr., leaders of the movement and the students not to give up, but to be persistent in what they believed was right despite the obstacles – even murders of civil rights workers who were working to secure the right to vote for African Americans – should show us today that if we are determined and persistent we can change the wrongs and make the playing field even.

We must take the right to vote seriously. We can change things with the power of the vote – if we exercise it. We must remember the sacrifices made during the Civil Rights Movement. We do not want their sacrifices to be in vain.

Do we know our history? Do we even know about the Civil Rights Movement? Do we know how we got where we are today? It is important for us all to know our history – where we came from and how we got here – in order to really know ourselves. Many would say that we are the most divided culture. But there was a time when we gathered together for one purpose and shouted with one voice. Today, we’ve abandoned our traditions and have allowed ourselves to be divided. Many of us don’t even honor our elders who tread the path for us.

Eyes on the Prize should be mandatory for all students to see. Some Black colleges have a mandatory course on the documentary. But it should be a conversation that our young people are having across America.

The murder of Till for looking at a White woman, the murder of Evers for his activities to get African Americans registered to vote, the murder of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers who were part of the Freedom Summer campaign to register African Americans to vote. What will it take for African Americans that are now eligible to vote – to go and vote?

Some say the vote hasn’t resulted in the gains expected; i.e. better education opportunities, better jobs, access to capital for Black businesses, opportunity for Black businesses to do business with local, state and federal government. They complain that our elected officials forget about their constituents once they are elected. So, many wonder “Why should they vote?” Will their votes make a difference?

Your voice will not make a difference if you don’t vote. Each vote does matter. Moreover, if we go to the polls in greater numbers, our voices will be heard in greater numbers. And once you vote, you have the right to demand that elected officials in your district represent you in Austin and in Washington.

Be part of the conversation! Send your letters to mbelt@dallasexaminer.com. Subject:: Letter Submission.