About Theodore DeLaney

College professor

Freedom Riders by Marquita Dunn


   Our class read Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by historian Raymond Arsenault. The book focuses on the daily challenges that freedom riders faced. It also describes the Greensboro sit-in demonstrations that North Carolina A&T College students organized, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and other facets of the Civil Rights Movement. It inspired me to use my imagination to picture the scenes of violent mobs, non-violent riders, and I asked myself if I could have endured this kind of treatment?

The documentary brought the book to life. To put faces with names and made it more poignant. When you hear the interviews with the participants, you hear the determination to carry on, you see the fear on their faces. The decision to send reporters on the rides was a huge turning point for the movement. Reporters filmed violence and the news broadcast reached people across the world who otherwise would not have known about it. As people saw the violence the Freedom Riders endured, the consciences of many prompted telephone calls to their Congressmen. It all became a moral issue, and more people from all walks of life, all colors, and nationalities decided to join in the fight for equal rights for all. Why should we let this happen to our fellow man; what can we as a people do?

Diane Nash was a young brave college student who led the Freedom Riders, and she refused to back down. As groups of riders were arrested and jailed, more groups stepped in and persevered. To listen to them describe the experiences they encountered was frightening. Being beaten within an inch of their lives, scenes with the dogs attacking children, high pressure fire hoses turned on women and children was more than I could bear to watch. It was frightening and I wondered if I would have been as brave?


Reflections – by Marquita Dunn



Police Dogs – Kelly Ingram Park

The Freedom Riders were young college students who put their lives on the line and had no fear of being killed. They fought to integrate interstate public transportation. As the fight continued there was a massive backlash. The ruling of the Interstate Commerce Commission prompted Ruling Gov. John Patterson, a race baiter, to do all in his power to maintain segregated transportation in Alabama. The violence that the Freedom Riders endured is difficult to imagine. As we strolled thru Kelly Ingram Park, the chained dogs and fire hose exhibits made me uncomfortable. In my mind I pictured the fear that the demonstrators must have felt; they were people who only wanted the same rights as white citizens. Later on Highway 80 we stopped at the Viola Liuzzo Memorial. She was a white civil rights activist and mother of five who sacrificed her life for the struggle. I wondered what her family members felt. Did they support her decision to join the Freedom Riders, did they become involved after her death, how did the children honor her?


As we entered New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, the destruction from Hurricane Katrina is still very much evident today, eleven years later. Will this part of the city ever rebuild and become the city that it once was. Could you imagine the despair that these people felt knowing that they lost everything they owned? They had no one to turn to; even the Federal Government mishandled the situation.

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Where houses once stood – Lower Ninth Ward – New Orleans

In Jackson as arrived at the Medgar Evers home, I remembered hearing Myrlie Evers Williams speak in Lexington two years ago. She described the night that her husband was killed and the chaos that surrounded the house. To witness such a horrific murder took a toll on her children. I was in awe as I listened to her describe that night, and her strength amazed me. A chill passed through me as we stood in front of the ruins of the Bryant Grocery in Money, Mississippi as I considered the fear on the face of young Emmett Till when he was kidnapped, beaten and thrown in the Tallahatchie River. I hoped and prayed that he was dead before he was bound and thrown from the bridge.

Memphis was just downright emotionally draining. To be in the Civil Rights Museum and see Martin Luther King’s room and the wreath on the balcony were he fell brought back the memory of watching it all unfold on national television. I was eleven years old in 1968 and I cried and was angry because his life was cut short. And then we got to Fisk University in Nashville, where Diane Nash was a student, and it was almost like coming full circle. This is where the young college students attended school. I am so thankful they didn’t give up the fight because we may not be where we are today. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to take Dr. DeLaney’s class. I will remember the good times we had on the trip, the discussion in class after viewing the Eye on the Prize. This class has taught me to think about the way I interpret history, and I understand that history is forever changing.


National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel -Where Dr. King died


A Word From Professor DeLaney


Professor Ted DeLaney and Student Trichia Bravi in Selma, Alabama

One of the most impressive parts of this course is the stop in Selma, Alabama.  This time we did far more than walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and visit the two Voting Rights Museums. We remained in the city more than two full days.  We lodged at the historic St. James Hotel that is owned and operated by the city; attended church services at the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church; enjoyed Sunday lunch at the Wallace Community College; dined at El Ranchero Restaurant, Side Porch Sandwiches, and had breakfast one morning at the St. James Hotel, and another morning at The Coffee Shop.

Selma is an important but sad place! It is a small, rural city located on the Alabama River.  Once upon a time it was beautiful and prosperous. Now it struggles to survive.  Its appearance suffers severely from deferred maintenance. There is, however, a hint of Selma’s former beauty, but only a passing one. The St. James Hotel is a telling place.  The lobby area is still exquisite – it is neat and the furniture is attractive. The nice lady at the check in desk could not supply me with itemized receipts because their printer was broken, but she did send them by email.  At one point I noticed one of my students walking through the lobby carrying a ladder.  He had informed the front desk that the smoke alarm in his room was beeping.  No maintenance man was on duty, so the check-in clerk supplied him with a couple of batteries and the ladder. My room was too cold and the bed quilt too heavy.  So I slept in my clothes and a light weight jacket two nights.Please do not read this as a complaint.  The hotel is lovely in many ways! The bedroom furniture looks like antiques and is truly beautiful. The hotel needs lots of work, and the city may not have sufficient resources to improve it.


Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church

We spent two days in Selma to learn about the city’s history since the 1965 Voting Rights March, and learn we did. The trip entailed lots of new experiences for all of us. The Sunday worship service at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church was wonderful.  Pastor Leodis Strong delivered a scholarly and moving sermon. Unfortunately, most of the pews were empty, but we took note of this congregation and its talented pastor. The church is one of the most attractive buildings in Selma and probably was not pictured in the last year’s popular movie because of its outdoor shrine to Dr. Martin Luther King and its commemorative display.

Selma, the so-called Queen City, organized in 1819 and became a center for cotton production. Traders brought large numbers of enslaved people into Selma where they were sold at auction along the Alabama River. Surrounding Dallas County was the site of lucrative cotton plantations.During the national sectional crisis, one native son, William Rufus DeVane King became Vice-President of the United States but died five weeks later of pneumonia.  In spite of its rich nineteenth century history, Selma’s greatest notoriety resulted from resistance to black voter registration during the twentieth century.

Bernard and Colia Lafayette, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, arrived in Selma in 1963 to begin a black voter registration project. They enlisted the assistance of local black leaders and soon butted heads with Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark and his volunteer deputies. Opposition to black voting was fierce, and two years later the situation remained unchanged. The violent clash between Alabama police officers and Voting Rights marchers on  Bloody Sunday (7 March 19650) changed Selma forever.  Televised violence garnered widespread sympathy and resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Mayor Joe Smitherman

In 1964, Selma elected ardent segregationist Joseph Smitherman as mayor.  His service would span more than thirty-five years, a period that included Bloody Sunday and a personal transformation that allowed him to retain office with the assistance of black voters. James Perkins, Jr. defeated him in the year 2000 and became Selma’s first black mayor.  Eight years later George Evans succeeded Perkins.  Since 2000, local mills have closed, and there has been massive white flight. Selma is now about 80 percent black and very poor.  Perkins and Evans are once again involved in a contest for mayor, but this time the race includes a young, well-educated, black female candidate named Jerria Martin.  No matter who wins, the challenge of reviving Selma is enormous. After more than five years of visiting Selma, I have witnessed steady decline.  Perhaps Perkins and Evans should pass the torch to a new generation and permit Martin to determine a new path for this once lovely city.


Candidate for Mayor Jerria Martin talks with W&L students, May 2, 2016

Former Mayor James Perkins, Jr.

Mayor George Evans








Jim Crow and the Struggle for Freedom by Marquita Dunn

Jim Crow is the term for a system of oppression enforced by law, custom, and violence. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, the southern states stripped blacks of the right to vote, denied equal justice, and racially segregated public places. Blacks also lived in terror of lynch mobs and sexual assault. Such practices were tools for controlling blacks, and whites seldom, if ever, had to fear prosecution for committing such crimes.

Segregation successfully divided between the races, and created two distinctly different American experiences. African Americans built communities that drew strength from within. They fought white supremacy in a number of ways, in churches, schools and businesses and thru networks of friends and family. Black churches, fraternal orders and sisterhoods sheltered, supported and provided leaders to the struggle for freedom. They raised funds for self-help groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and political action groups that fostered voter registration and desegregation. The next generation was prepared to carry the torch of freedom.

The Freedom Riders were from all walks of life, races and nationalities. Included were college students, clergy from all denominations and leaders from groups such as the Congress for Racial Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating  Committee and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Riders fought for desegregation of public transportation and facilities within the terminals. Other collegiate groups held sit ins at all white lunch counters, and fought for the right to vote in places like Albany, Georgia, Selma, Alabama, and the Mississippi Delta. They encountered resistance and brutal attacks by die hard segregationists, but not once did they retaliate with violence. Because of the determination and persistence of the Freedom Riders, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and other groups segregation ended.

On April 4, 1968 , the Freedom Riders and the Civil Rights Movement lost their most important leader. Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, who were protesting unfair wages, unsafe conditions and unjust treatment they faced daily on the job. As Martin stepped onto the balcony at the Lorraine Motel, he was shot in the neck and collapsed. At the age of thirty nine, his life was cut short. Forty eight years later the struggle continues.

Thanks all of my predecessors for the sacrifices you made for equal justice in America. We as a nation still have work to do. Only when we are all treated as equals in this country can we say the struggle is over and our work is done.

 The March Continues

New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward by Marquita Dunn

LOWER9TH_MUSThe Lower Ninth Ward was a poor, mostly black neighborhood that Hurricane Katrina devastated, and its revitalization has been very slow. The ward lost  eighteen percent of its residents during the eighties. Poverty increased along with violence throughout the neighborhood, and city officials mostly ignored this. In 2004 the poverty rate was at twenty eight percent and eleven percent unemployment. Residents lobbied for better public school facilities, health clinics and protection against environmental hazards. The people of the Ninth Ward, however, refused to be forgotten. The neighborhood is fighting city officials and the national political powers to rebuild.

The landscape of New Orleans changed when the industrial canal divided the ward into two sections and cut off this neighborhood from the rest of the city. City officials  justified this decision by claiming the area was virtually uninhabited, but nearly 26,000 people-7%of the population of New Orleans lived in the Ninth Ward. This put the residents in a great risk of flooding.

On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans with winds of 130 mph There were 1,836 total fatalities with over 1,000 in the Lower Ninth Ward. Homes were flooded for 23-29 days and damages totaled 84 billion dollars. Celebrities have built new homes for residents giving them hope that the Lower Ninth will rise again. Riding thru and seeing the devastation 11 years later and the conditions these people are living under makes you wonder if this is just a dream? I certainly hope not.


Display panel in a Lower Ninth Ward Park at Deslondes and Roman Streets.

Montgomery, Alabama by Marquita Dunn

Wednesday, May 04, 2016 9:58 PM
On December 1,1955, Montgomery policemen arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. A magistrate fined her; thus began the Montgomery bus boycott which lasted three hundred eighty one days. The boycott ended with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decree that Montgomery’s segregation laws were unconstitutional. On that very day, Ms. Parks rode at the front of the bus. During the boycott black citizens held meetings in churches because they were thought to be safer. Also the city ruled was that no more than three blacks could congregate in public. Most were ordinary men, women, and children who had courage. Martin Luther King, Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, offered its use for mass meetings.  Whites, who opposed the boycott often heckled, antagonized, and threatened black citizens as they continue walking to work.   As the fight for civil rights continued, Morris Dees founded the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The SPLC museum traces the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 until 1968. It presents the quest for Civil Rights chronologically through exhibits and short films used to educate visitors about the sacrifices that were made by these ordinary people. The center also traces all hate crimes committed against individuals and groups. The memorial is a black granite wall with an inscription by Dr. King, with water streaming down onto a flat granite table with the names of people who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom. There is also a spot where visitors can take the pledge to be tolerant of others and continue the journey for justice and freedom. This is called the Wall of Tolerance. I took the pledge and signed the wall and it is my hope that one day, everyone will be tolerated regardless of their skin color, beliefs, or gender. We were all created equal and until we are treated that way, the struggle is far from over.

“Soul Food” by Marquita Dunn

soul_foodEating and learning about African American culture has been one of our class objectives.
Soul food originated in African American culture and is a term that is used in the South. Growing up, I thought it was food that was good for the soul and in a sense it is. The items listed on soul food menus consist of meatloaf, pig feet, fried chicken, fish, candied yams, collard greens, macaroni and cheese and cornbread. Barbecue is also a Southern tradition, with ribs and pulled pork asthe most popular. Not at all healthy, but oh so good!
After checking into our hotel in Atlanta, Professor DeLaney took us to Pig and Chick for dinner. The barbecue was delicious and something that we have all had before. Collard greens were new to most of the group, some liked them and some did not.  During dinner we all learned that foods are basically the same but  differ depending on the part of the country you’re from, the names vary. As we continued our journey farther south we came upon a soul food place called Mama B’s. I was a little disappointed but everyone else was pleased with the selections they made, but all agreed the candied yams were scrumptiously delicious.
DSC_1926The lesson we learned from all of the food and why it’s called soul food was an eye opener for most of the group. What does it have to do with history? Pig feet and other parts of the pig were all that the poorest of blacks could afford, chickens were raised in many front yards; greens were also grown in home gardens and went along way with a large family. At times I’m sure this soul food has soothed many souls of both blacks and whites. After all souls know no color.