Lecture addresses student action

Teaching is 80-year-old Anne Braden’s latest career. Nine years ago the human rights activist and labor leader became a civil rights instructor at Northern Kentucky University. Braden spoke at one of the last Diversity Week functions Nov. 18.

Her message: students need to stop talking about problems and start fixing them.

Braden has been a participant of the Civil Rights, Labor, Women’s and Anti-War movements.

Braden said she wants her students to be outspoken and visible in their protests.

“If you get yourself in jail, I’ll do everything I can to get you out,” Braden said she tells them, “but I’m not going to give you a better grade for it.”

Braden, a resident of Louisville, Ky., knows what can happen when protesters defy a system. In the 1950s, she and her late husband Carl Braden were charged with sedition when they sold a Louisville home to a black couple. Sedition means resisting lawful authority. Although the case was eventually thrown out of court, her husband spent a year in jail for refusing to cooperate.

Born into a middle-class white family, Braden grew up in Alabama in the midst of segregation. She said she gradually started to question the norm before she realized segregation was wrong. “I never met anyone who could say the truth came in a blazing flame of light,” Braden said of people who joined the Civil Rights Movement. “We just always knew something was wrong.”

Often accused of being a communist and a traitor who wanted to overthrow the government, Braden was told on many occasions to “go back to Russia.” Since her ancestors were among America’s first colonists, Braden said she would say, “you go back. I’ve been here longer than you.”

After years of involvement, Braden said she thinks the Civil Rights Movement never accomplished what it attempted. “Statistics show that blacks are worse off than before the Movement in many ways,” she said.

She cited high poverty rates and low education levels as some of her main concerns. According to the Bureau of Labor, 30 to 40 percent of black males graduate from high school, although before the Brown v. Board of Education case, many all-black schools had test scores similar to or higher than those of their white counterparts.

In 1960, the black poverty rate was 47 percent, a 40 percent drop from the rate in 1940. Today the rate is about 22 percent, but it is improving at a slower rate than was seen pre-Civil Rights. An additional struggle is that today many blacks are raised in single-parent homes. In 1940, 19 percent of black births were out-of-wedlock compared to 70 percent today.

Braden said college students need to open their eyes to see what’s wrong, even though it can be difficult to do something about it. “When you take on a different position on anything, you feel isolated,” she said. “You start to wonder what’s wrong with you and whether you might be crazy. You don’t think that there are other people out there who feel the same way you do.”

College students are realizing that a lot of things need to be fixed in our society, Braden told her audience, adding that she believes there may be a student movement. “It’s always the young people that change things,” she said. “In a way it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House because the people can change things.”

Graduate student Alisha Brown said hearing Braden speak made her want to do something. “I want to get involved,” she said. “I want to join an organization and do something. I’m sure racism exists on campus. Students need to unite together to do something about it.”