Civil rights activists talk voting and the constitution

By Amanda Freuler//Contributing Writer 

Photo by Greg French//Staff Photographer

Trailblazers of the voters’ rights movement, the Rev. James Lawson and the Rev. C.T. Vivian, joined in MTSU’s annual Constitution Day activities by offering the “No Voice, No Choice: Voters Rights Act at 50” panel discussion in Tucker Theater on Thursday.

In addition to being a part of the Constitution Day celebration, the panel was prompted by this year’s 50th anniversary of The Voting Rights Act; in which Lawson and Vivian both played crucial roles.

The discussion began with Carroll Van West, Tennessee State Historian and Director of the Center for Historic Preservation, welcoming the audience of students, faculty and campus visitors.

“(The panel is) one of those moments in time that we can all mark and look back on, and talk about how MTSU changed, and about how MTSU grew,” West said. “It is rare that we get a chance to touch the past in such a way that forms our own futures as citizens of this country.”

Mary A. Evins, Coordinator of the American Democracy Project, introduced Lawson and Vivian by sharing some of the struggles and accomplishments they faced during the peak of the civil rights movement.

“Every issue pertaining to social justice these gentlemen have been involved in. They’re on the frontlines and they continue to be,” Evins said.

Moderating the panel discussion was student activist, Aleia Brown, who is currently working towards her doctorate in public history. The panel conversation began with Brown asking Lawson and Vivian their opinions on the tactic of disruption, which was recently used by a Black Lives Matter activist.

“Disruption is a nonviolent method, but it works best in the context of many other kinds of direct actions, and it works best when it is a part of an overall strategic plan,” said Lawson. The Reverend continued to say that there is too much activism without enough “visionary strategic thinking” in America.

“We are all equal, and we are all on the human journey. Somehow, we who are the graduates of higher education institutions…must launch the meaning of that learning,” Lawson said. Vivian responded by questioning whether or not the United States have truly ever been a democracy.

Together, the seasoned activists explained that the United States have begun the conversation for democracy, but unfortunately it has not yet been accomplished. Lawson blames racism, sexism, violence and “plantation capitalism”, which he refers to as the “forces of spiritual wickedness,” for the United States not reaching its full potential as a democratic nation.While Lawson said he was not putting guilt on anyone, Vivian said, “we had every chance to change it, and we have not.”

When asked how citizens can combat the “forces of spiritual wickedness,” Vivian said that the easiest solution is simply voting. “I can’t help but to bring that up on a day like today,” Lawson said. ” Voting, as critical as it is, is not the primary responsibility of citizen engagement. Being a learned, loving, compassionate, caring person who sees all other human beings in America as human beings and being engaged is the first task.”

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To contact news editor Sarah Grace Taylor, email

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1 Comment

  1. […] Middle Tennessee State University hosted a panel on civil rights and the U.S. Constitution. Learn more here, here and here. […]

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